Three-dimensional glacial flow and surface elevation measured with radar interferometry

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Outlet glaciers—which serve to drain ice from ice sheets—seem to be dynamically less stable in North Greenland than in South Greenland1,2,3. Storstrømmen, a large outlet glacier in northeastern Greenland which surged between 1978 and 1984 (ref. 2), has been well studied. In general, neither glacier surge mechanisms nor the geographical distribution of the surges are well known. Conventional satellite radar interferometry can provide large-scale topography models with high resolution4, and can measure the radar line-of-sight component of ice-flow vectors5, but cannot map full vector flow fields. Here we present an interferometry method that combines observations from descending and ascending satellite orbits which, assuming ice flow parallel to the topographic surface, allows us to use the differing view angles to estimate full three-dimensional surface flow patterns. The accuracy of our technique is confirmed by the good agreement between our radar-based flow model and in situ Global Positioning System (GPS) reference data at Storstrømmen. Radar measurements such as these, made regularly and at high spatial density, have the potential to substantially enhance our understanding of glacier dynamics and ice-sheet flow, as well as improve the accuracy of glacier mass-balance estimates.

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Figure 1: Colour-coded display of annual horizontal displacement in a region around the Storstrømmen glacier.
Figure 2: Map (90 km × 70 km) of radar-derived elevations and flow vectors.


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The Danish Center for Remote Sensing is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation. ERS data have been made available by the European Space Agency. Field work on Storstrømmen was supported by the Commission of the European Communities.

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Correspondence to Søren N. Madsen.

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