Articles | Volume 6, issue 6
Research article
19 Dec 2012
Research article |  | 19 Dec 2012

Linking glacier annual mass balance and glacier albedo retrieved from MODIS data

M. Dumont, J. Gardelle, P. Sirguey, A. Guillot, D. Six, A. Rabatel, and Y. Arnaud

Abstract. Albedo is one of the variables controlling the mass balance of temperate glaciers. Multispectral imagers, such as MODerate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the TERRA and AQUA satellites, provide a means to monitor glacier surface albedo. In this study, different methods to retrieve broadband glacier surface albedo from MODIS data are compared. The effect of multiple reflections due to the rugged topography and of the anisotropic reflection of snow and ice are particularly investigated. The methods are tested on the Saint Sorlin Glacier (Grandes Rousses area, French Alps). The accuracy of the retrieved albedo is estimated using both field measurements, at two automatic weather stations located on the glacier, and albedo values derived from terrestrial photographs. For summers 2008 and 2009, the root mean square deviation (RMSD) between field measurements and the broadband albedo retrieved from MODIS data at 250 m spatial resolution was found to be 0.052 or about 10% relative error. The RMSD estimated for the MOD10 daily albedo product is about three times higher. One decade (2000–2009) of MODIS data were then processed to create a time series of albedo maps of Saint Sorlin Glacier during the ablation season. The annual mass balance of Saint Sorlin Glacier was compared with the minimum albedo value (average over the whole glacier surface) observed with MODIS during the ablation season. A strong linear correlation exists between the two variables. Furthermore, the date when the average albedo of the whole glacier reaches a minimum closely corresponds to the period when the snow line is located at its highest elevation, thus when the snow line is a good indicator of the glacier equilibrium line. This indicates that this strong correlation results from the fact that the minimal average albedo values of the glacier contains considerable information regarding the relative share of areal surfaces between the ablation zone (i.e. ice with generally low albedo values) and the accumulation zone (i.e. snow with a relatively high albedo). As a consequence, the monitoring of the glacier surface albedo using MODIS data can provide a useful means to evaluate the interannual variability of the glacier mass balance. Finally, the albedo in the ablation area of Saint Sorlin Glacier does not exhibit any decreasing trend over the study period, contrasting with the results obtained on Morteratsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps.