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

Glacier mapping with Sentinel-2 in Svalbard: Challenges when creating a new glacier inventory in the Artic

Frank Paul and Philipp Rastner
Frank Paul and Philipp Rastner
  • Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (

Svalbard is dominated by large (often calving) glaciers and ice caps with a strong contribution to global sea-level rise. Due to many surge-type glaciers, large changes of glacier extents are common and determination of their mass balance requires a regular update of their outlines. However, frequent cloud cover prevents accurate repeat mapping. In consequence, the last glacier inventory for Svalbard was compiled from satellite scenes acquired over a period of 11 years, making change assessment and other applications difficult. Due to long-lasting seasonal snow and confusion with large perennial snow patches, the minimum size of this inventory has been set to 1 km2.

Here we present a new glacier inventory for Svalbard that has been compiled at 10 m resolution from two Sentinel-2 scenes that were acquired only two days apart. Sea ice, ice-bergs, lakes and turbid water were wrongly classified as glaciers by the applied band ratio method and manually removed. Debris cover, snow and ice under some clouds but also polluted (very dark) clean ice was not mapped as thresholds were optimized to get snow and ice in shadow properly mapped. These missing regions were manually added. Snow patches were removed with a 5 by 5 majority filter applied to the binary glacier map and a minimum size of 0.05 km2. Outlines from the previous inventory as available in the RGI were used to guide the corrections. After careful comparison, we used the Arctic DEM to derive surface drainage divides and topographic attributes for all glaciers.

The largest challenges for accurate glacier delineation are discrimination of debris-covered glaciers from peri-glacial debris and rock glaciers, handling of attached seasonal or perennial snowfields, and identifying disintegrating tongues of down-wasting and often debris-covered ice masses remaining after a surge. Compared to the previous inventory, the large area gains and losses of surge-type glaciers are remarkable, but area differences result also from a different interpretation of debris-covered glaciers, inclusion of snow-filled couloirs and several new glaciers that were excluded in the previous inventory.

How to cite: Paul, F. and Rastner, P.: Glacier mapping with Sentinel-2 in Svalbard: Challenges when creating a new glacier inventory in the Artic, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-11403,, 2020


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