Recent rapid thinning of the “Mer de Glace” glacier derived from satellite optical images



[1] The rapid wastage of mountain glaciers and their contribution to sea level rise require worldwide monitoring of their mass balance. In this paper, we show that changes in glacier thickness can be accurately measured from satellite images. We use SPOT image pairs to build Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) of the Mont Blanc area (French Alps) for different years. To register the DEMs, we adjust their longitude, latitude and altitude over motionless areas. The uncertainty of the thickness change measurement is greatly reduced by averaging over areas covering altitude intervals of 50 m. Comparisons with topographic profiles and a differential DEM from aerial photographs obtained on the Mer de Glace indicate an overall accuracy of 1 m for the thickness change measurement. Below 2100 m, satellite DEMs show an evolution of the thinning rate from 1 ± 0.4 m.a−1 (years 1979–1994) to 4.1 ± 1.7 m.a−1 (2000–2003).