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Quantification of mountain glaciers surface mass balance at regional scale from optical satellite images

Abstract : Beyond their iconic role of climate change, mountain glaciers can be considered as Earth’ essential component and natural “climate-meter”. Despite their small spatial coverage (0.5% of emerged land), mountain glaciers contribute as high as 30% of the observed sea-level rise. In some regions, they are considered as essential issues because of their importance in terms of potable water, agriculture, hydroelectricity or natural hazards. A small share is however monitored in situ (<0.0025%) and their fluctuations at regional scale are poorly known.Thanks to the development of high spatial resolution satellite sensors (metric to decametric), new methods are today available to significantly increase the number of monitored glaciers. After a state of the art of the existing methods and an identification of the limitations, we focused our attention on the development of two methods.The first one is based on the automatic detection of the snow/ice interface altitude (i.e. snowline) at the glacier surface from optical satellite images. This altitude, when estimated at the end of summer, is a proxy of the annual glacier-wide mass change at the glacier surface (called surface mass balance, SMB). Using this approach, we estimated the annual SMBs of 239 glaciers in the European Alps and 82 glaciers in the tropical Andes for the period 2000-2016 and 2000-2018, respectively. The mean mass loss are -0.74 and -1.29 m water equivalent per year for the two regions, respectively. This approach allowed to derive the first dataset of annual SMBs for individual glaciers at regional scale from optical remote sensing. We found significant relationships between the computed SMBs and the glacier morpho-topographic features (e.g. slope, median altitude, …), with steeper and higher glaciers, experiencing less mass losses. Comparison with in situ monitored SMBs revealed an overestimation of mass losses from in situ estimates, due to a low representativeness of steep glaciers (>20°) in the in situ datasets. Our study also revealed heterogeneous inter-annual variability across the European Alps, partially explained by the climatic context of the studied sub-regions, thanks to the analysis of climate reanalysis data.We developed a second method to derive the annual and summer SMBs from albedo maps, computed from MODIS images. With an application on 30 glaciers in the French Alps, this work opened the way toward a regional application of this method, in order to estimate both annual and summer SMBs.By performing regional applications on different glacierized regions, we developed and validated methods capable of deriving the annual and summer SMBs of individual mountain glaciers at regional scale, from optical remote sensing data. These data could then be used to (1) assess the impact of peculiar climatic conditions onto mountain glaciers; (2) investigate possible meteorological conditions driving the documented glacier fluctuations; (3) calibrate and validate glacio-hydrological models used to estimate the current and future contributions of mountain glaciers to the hydrological functioning of mountain catchments and to sea level rise.
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Lucas Davaze. Quantification of mountain glaciers surface mass balance at regional scale from optical satellite images. Glaciology. Université Grenoble Alpes, 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019GREAU022⟩. ⟨tel-02445735⟩

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