EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Which DEM to use for glacier inventory applications? The example of Svalbard

Philipp Rastner and Frank Paul
Philipp Rastner and Frank Paul
  • Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Creating glacier inventories from satellite images and a digital elevation model (DEM) has become quasi standard. Besides the specific challenges for glacier mapping, also the selection of the ‘best’ DEM can be difficult. When using it to derive surface drainage divides and topographic information for each glacier, one has to consider the date of acquisition, artefacts, spatial completeness (data voids) and resolution. In general, using different DEMs gives different drainage divides and thus other glacier sizes. Moreover, due to widespread glacier retreat and rapid surface lowering, topographic information from older DEMs is increasingly biased towards too high values.

In this study we analyse seven freely available DEMs for the Arctic region of Svalbard: ALOS AW3D30, two National Elevation Datasets (NEDs), Arctic DEM, TanDEM-X (90 and 30 m products) and the ASTER GDEM2. All individual DEM tiles were mosaicked and re-projected bilinearly to UTM 33 N. Comparisons of topographic data are performed for three test regions: a) stable terrain (off glaciers), b) glaciers in rough topography, and c) flat glaciers and ice caps.

Overlay of drainage divides indicate large area differences on flat ice caps and small ones in rough topography, where mountain ridges are distinct. On the other hand, different spatial resolution results in large differences in rough topography but plays only a minor role for flat topography. Only 2 m elevation differences on stable terrain in flat valley bottoms were detected between the ALOS DEM (79.9m) and the two NEDs (77.9 m). No differences were found between the TanDEM-X 90 / 30 m and the Arctic DEM (all 109. 9 m). The ellipsoid-geoid difference is thus ~30 m in this region.

Mean elevations of glaciers with flat topography or ice caps differ only slightly, but in steeper topography they reach 6 to 8 m. These differences are also due to the different resolution of the DEMs. In all test regions, only small gaps are detected in the Arctic DEM and artefacts are especially present in the ALOS DEM. For this region the ‘best’ DEM is the TanDEM-X DEM.

How to cite: Rastner, P. and Paul, F.: Which DEM to use for glacier inventory applications? The example of Svalbard, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-11059,, 2020


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