The spatial and temporal distribution of 20th Century Antarctic Peninsula glacier mass change and its drivers

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Civil Engineering and Geosciences

Abstract

Mountain glaciers are a major source of the sea-level rise measured in the twentieth century and contributor to present sea-level rise. The Antarctic Peninsula is a major mountain glacier system, with more than 400 glaciers, nearly all of which reach the sea. Records from weather stations in the area show that it has experienced summer warming over the last half-century. Scientists expect the Antarctic Peninsula to be contributing to sea-level change at a similar rate to that of other fast-changing near-polar or large mountain-glacier environments such as Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, Patagonia and Svalbard.

Loss of glacier ice to the sea through melting or increased iceberg calving at the front of the glacier contributes to sea-level rise. Changes to the length of Antarctic Peninsula glaciers and area of its ice shelves in the twentieth century have been studied, and many glaciers are known to have speeded up. However there is almost no information on changes in the amount of ice contained in the glaciers.

As a result, the Antarctic Peninsula is not properly included in current assessments of the role of mountain and near-polar glaciers in past sea-level change. Forecasting of the future impact of the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet on sea level first needs an understanding of past and recent glacier mass changes.
The only way to now measure these past changes in glacier mass is by detailed three-dimensional measurements from historic aerial photography. There is an archive of more than 30,000 suitable aerial photographs going back to the 1950s for the northern Antarctic Peninsula, and some places have coverage from several dates over this period. They were originally flown for mapping and hydrographic charting of the coast.

Our research will focus on mass change of 50 glaciers over a 50 year-time span. We will use photogrammetry, a well-established method for making maps and civil-engineering measurements from aerial photography, to map the glacier surface elevation at different dates. Comparing these surfaces for each glacier will show the geographical extent of glacier ice loss and reveal trends such as acceleration of ice loss over time. It will also establish whether ice loss near the coast is counter-balanced by gain, from higher snowfall, in the upper parts of the glaciers.

Making reliable measurements from the old photographs using photogrammetry relies on relating accurately-known ground surveyed points to their positions on the photographs. For the Antarctic Peninsula such ground-control points have always been difficult to obtain and simply do not exist in the numbers required. Until now, this has prevented measurements from the photographs and they are an unexploited resource.

A new technique developed by the project team links surfaces measured from the old photographs to recent satellite imagery or GPS-supported aerial photography and eliminates the need for field-surveyed ground control.
It allows us to unlock glacier change measurements from the archive of aerial photographs, and establish a suite of 50 benchmark glaciers, with a 50-year record, for monitoring future changes.

We will then relate the measured glacier changes to the climate record, using them as parameters in a computer model of glacier behaviour developed by the project team. This will allow us to isolate the extent to which atmospheric warming, leading to increased melting, explains the measured changes, or whether other factors such as ocean temperature and sea ice cover are also drivers.

Overall the project will transform the Antarctic Peninsula from being almost unmeasured to one of the best known large mountain or near-polar glacier systems and provide new insights into the roles of variables such as atmospheric warming, snowfall, marine temperature and sea-ice cover in glacier mass change.

Planned Impact

The research will provide a step-change in understanding about glacier change on the Antarctic Peninsula and its drivers. While this proposal does not itself include projections of the Antarctic Peninsula's likely contribution to sea level rise, it will deliver the first reliable data about glacier mass-change to underpin such projections by other researchers.

1. International impact:
Our research will benefit 1) international researchers studying similar near-polar systems in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and 2) Climate modellers who will be able to apply new insights into the sensitivities of sub-polar marine and tidewater glacier systems to climate change to refine parameters for these processes in large-scale predictive models of global sea-level rise.
Our results will be published and available for consideration in the IPCC sixth Assessment Report which will be a key source for climate and sea-level change projections for policy-makers.

2. Inter-disciplinary impact:
At the heart of our research is a novel technique to unlock a vast archive of environmental change information from historic aerial photographs. The multi-epoch DEM-matching techniques that we will demonstrate will be relevant for other disciplines seeking to reconstruct environmental and geomorphological changes from historical images in the absence of ground measurements.

3. Media, public engagement and education.
Previous media impact shows that the general public and school students are highly interested in Antarctica, its ice and climate change. This project has high potential for engaging the general public, promoting NERC role as a leader in relevant international science. We will build on existing BAS relationships and systems, such as the BAS/RGS/UK-FCO 'Discovering Antarctica' schools website, to enthuse school students about science and the GIS through the project.

Publications

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Fieber K (2016) REMOTELY-SENSED GLACIER CHANGE ESTIMATION: A CASE STUDY AT LINDBLAD COVE, ANTARCTIC PENINSULA in ISPRS Annals of Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences

 
Description Explained in previous submissions
Exploitation Route Explained in previous submissions
Sectors Environment

 
Description BBC News AGU 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Dr Pauline Miller and Dr Lucy Clarke were interviewed by BBC at the 2014 AGU conference in San Francisco.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30471542
 
Description BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Lucy Clarke was interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucestershire for a 10 minute slot about the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Emerging Tech in Aerospace System: Current trends and future prospects for geospatial EO technologies: 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact ERDF funded GX programme established as part of the Great Exhibition of the North. Event held at Durham University on 12 Sept 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://getnorth2018.com/previous-events/emerging-tech-in-aerospace-ecosystems/
 
Description Invited talk at Kings College London - "Unlocking the Archive: Antarctic Glacial Change" Dr Lucy Clarke 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Dr Lucy Clarke gave an Invited talk at Kings College London - "Unlocking the Archive: Antarctic Glacial Change" in january 2017. This was followed up by questions and debate from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Keynote presentation at University of Bergen Partner Day, Norway 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Event hosted annually by University of Bergen for their industry partners - c. 60 participants present, mostly Norwegian.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public talk "Unlocking the Archive: Antarctic Glacial Change" part of RGS-IBG regional series - Dr Lucy Clarke 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Lucy Clarke gave a talk "Unlocking the Archive: Antarctic Glacial Change" as part of Royal geographical Society-IBG Regional series. Attended by RGS-IBG members and the general public. Questions and discussion afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2016