Glacier Mapping
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GPR for Glacier Mapping

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laciers are a major source of fresh water and in places are the critical supplier of water for drinking, irrigation and hydro electric power generation. Modern water resource management requires understanding the volume of supply available.

Problem

Glacier depth and subsurface geometry can vary greatly and defining the 3D shape of the glacier provides the answer to the volume of fresh water held in the form of ice. Survey techniques are needed to defined glacier depth and shape. In addition, since glaciers are growing and receding continuously, the means to monitor changes with time are also important.

Stagnation glacier on Bylot Island in the Canadian Arctic.
Stagnation glacier on Bylot Island in the Canadian Arctic.

GPR Contribution to Solution

Modern GPR systems are light weight, portable and easy to use. When combined with GPS positioning, digitally recorded GPR data can be geo-referenced and analysed to create 3D representations of a glacier or ice sheet.

The current survey was conducted on Stagnation Glacier. The University of Calgary team surveyed a number of transects across and down the axis of the glacier.

GPR has been used in the study of glaciers and ice sheets for many years. Ice is highly transparent to radio wave signals, making glaciers an ideal setting for using GPR.

GPR profile along the axis of the Stagnation Glacier after compensating the data for topographic changes as determined from the GPS data.
GPR profile along the axis of the Stagnation Glacier after compensating the data for topographic changes as determined from the GPS data.

After appropriate processing, the estimated ice depth over the extent of the glacier was determined. The results were then presented in the form of a contour map.

Ice thickness contour map of the Stagnation Glacier derived from GPR survey data.
Ice thickness contour map of the Stagnation Glacier derived from GPR survey data.

Results such as this can be obtained by autonomous crews in a few days. In this case the survey team carried out the survey on foot and back-packed the survey equipment. The issues of crevasses and other local hazards are always a concern to field crews. In many cases towing the GPR with a snow mobile or similar snow vehicle can vastly speed up data acquisition.

Data courtesy of Brian Moorman – University of Calgary.

Results & Benefits

With climate change impacting ice covered areas worldwide, GPR for glacier mapping is becoming common. Some key benefits are:

  • GPR provides a compact and readily used survey method for determining the subsurface shape of ice sheets.
  • The pulseEKKO system used in this study demonstrated use of a man-portable system with integrated GPS.
  • GPR operation is simple and intuitive and full digital recording makes post-survey geometry assessment quick and easy
  • Users can be effective with minimal training
  • Processing software make data analysis practical on a PC
  • 3D GPR visualization software delivers memorable images to decision makers

Learn more about the pulseEKKO system

Download the case study: GPR for Glacier Mapping

When learning about GPR, the best practice is to review several similar case studies to develop an understanding of variability.

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