06 Nov 2023
 | 06 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Observing glacier elevation changes from spaceborne optical and radar sensors – an inter-comparison experiment using ASTER and TanDEM-X data

Livia Piermattei, Michael Zemp, Christian Sommer, Fanny Brun, Matthias H. Braun, Liss M. Andreassen, Joaquín M. C. Belart, Etienne Berthier, Atanu Bhattacharya, Laura Boehm Vock, Tobias Bolch, Amaury Dehecq, Inés Dussaillant, Daniel Falaschi, Caitlyn Florentine, Dana Floricioiu, Christian Ginzler, Gregoire Guillet, Romain Hugonnet, Matthias Huss, Andreas Kääb, Owen King, Christoph Klug, Friedrich Knuth, Lukas Krieger, Jeff La Frenierre, Robert McNabb, Christopher McNeil, Rainer Prinz, Louis Sass, Thorsten Seehaus, David Shean, Désirée Treichler, Anja Wendt, and Ruitang Yang

Abstract. Observations of glacier mass changes are key to understanding the response of glaciers to climate change and related impacts, such as regional runoff, ecosystem changes, and global sea-level rise. Spaceborne optical and radar sensors make it possible to quantify glacier elevation changes, and thus multi-annual mass changes, on a regional and global scale. However, estimates from a growing number of studies show a wide range of results with differences often beyond uncertainty bounds. Here, we present the outcome of a community-based inter-comparison experiment using spaceborne optical stereo (ASTER) and synthetic aperture radar interferometry (TanDEM-X) data to estimate elevation changes for defined glaciers and target periods that pose different assessment challenges. Using provided or self-processed digital elevation models (DEMs) for five test sites, 12 research groups provided a total of 97 spaceborne elevation-change datasets using various processing strategies. Validation with airborne data showed that using an ensemble estimate is promising to reduce random errors from different instruments and processing methods, but still requires a more comprehensive investigation and correction of systematic errors. We found that scene selection, DEM processing, and co-registration have the biggest impact on the results. Other processing steps, such as treating spatial data voids, differences in survey periods, or radar penetration, can still be important for individual cases. Future research should focus on testing different implementations of individual processing steps (e.g. co-registration) and addressing issues related to temporal corrections, radar penetration, glacier area changes, and density conversion. Finally, there is a clear need for our community to develop best practices, use open, reproducible software, and assess overall uncertainty in order to enhance inter-comparison and empower physical process insights across glacier elevation-change studies.

Livia Piermattei et al.

Status: open (until 12 Jan 2024)

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Livia Piermattei et al.

Livia Piermattei et al.


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Short summary
Satellites have made it possible to observe glacier elevation changes from all around the world. In the present study, we compared the results produced from two different types of satellite data between different research groups and against validation measurements from aeroplanes. We found a large spread between individual results but showed that the group ensemble can be used to reliably estimate glacier elevation changes and related errors from satellite data.