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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: data description paper 18 Dec 2019

Submitted as: data description paper | 18 Dec 2019

Review status
This preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

Glacier shrinkage in the Alps continues unabated as revealed by a new glacier inventory from Sentinel-2

Frank Paul1, Philipp Rastner1, Roberto Sergio Azzoni2, Guglielmina Diolaiuti2, Davide Fugazza2, Raymond Le Bris1, Johanna Nemec3, Antoine Rabatel4, Mélanie Ramusovic4, Gabriele Schwaizer3, and Claudio Smiraglia2 Frank Paul et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of Milan, Milan, Italy
  • 3ENVEO IT GmbH, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 4Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble-INP, Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement (IGE, UMR5001), Grenoble, France

Abstract. The on-going glacier shrinkage in the Alps requires frequent updates of glacier outlines to provide an accurate database for monitoring or modeling purposes (e.g. determination of run-off, mass balance, or future glacier extent) and other applications. With the launch of the first Sentinel-2 (S2) satellite in 2015, it became possible to create a consistent, Alpine-wide glacier inventory with an unprecedented spatial resolution of 10 m. Fortunately, already the first S2 images acquired in August 2015 provided excellent mapping conditions for most of the glacierised regions in the Alps. We have used this opportunity to compile a new Alpine-wide glacier inventory in a collaborative team effort. In all countries, glacier outlines from the latest national inventories have been used as a guide to compile a consistent update. However, cloud cover over many glaciers in Italy required including also S2 scenes from 2016. Whereas the automated mapping of clean glacier ice was straightforward using the band ratio method, the numerous debris-covered glaciers required in-tense manual editing. The uncertainty in the outlines was determined with a multiple digitising experiment of 14 glaciers by all participants. Topographic information for all glaciers was derived from the ALOS AW3D30 DEM. Overall, we derived a total glacier area of 1806 ± 60 km2 when considering 4394 glaciers > 0.01 km2. This is 14 % (−1.2 %/a) less than the 2100 km2 derived from Landsat scenes acquired in 2003 and indicating an unabated continuation of glacier shrinkage in the Alps since the mid-1980s. Due to the higher spatial resolution of S2 many small glaciers were additionally mapped in the new inventory or increased in size compared to 2003. An artificial reduction to the former extents would thus result in an even higher overall area loss. Still, the uncertainty assessment revealed locally considerable differences in interpretation of debris-covered glaciers, resulting in limitations for change assessment when using glacier extents digitised by different analysts. The inventory is available at: (Paul et al., 2019).

Frank Paul et al.

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Frank Paul et al.


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