Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
06 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 06 Jan 2015

UAV photogrammetry and structure from motion to assess calving dynamics at Store Glacier, a large outlet draining the Greenland ice sheet

J. C. Ryan, A. L. Hubbard, J. E. Box, J. Todd, P. Christoffersen, J. R. Carr, T. O. Holt, and N. Snooke

Abstract. This study presents the application of a cost-effective, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to investigate calving dynamics at a major marine-terminating outlet glacier draining the western sector of the Greenland ice sheet. The UAV was flown over Store Glacier on three sorties during summer 2013 and acquired over 2000 overlapping, geotagged images of the calving front at an ~40 cm ground sampling distance. Stereo-photogrammetry applied to these images enabled the extraction of high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) with vertical accuracies of ± 1.9 m which were used to quantify glaciological processes from early July to late August 2013. The central zone of the calving front advanced by ~500 m, whilst the lateral margins remained stable. The orientation of crevasses and the surface velocity field derived from feature tracking indicates that lateral drag is the primary resistive force and that ice flow varies across the calving front from 2.5 m d−1 at the margins to in excess of 16 m d−1 at the centreline. Ice flux through the calving front is 3.8 × 107 m3 d−1, equivalent to 13.9 Gt a−1 and comparable to flux-gate estimates of Store Glacier's annual discharge. Water-filled crevasses were present throughout the observation period but covered a limited area of between 0.025 and 0.24% of the terminus and did not appear to exert any significant control over fracture or calving. We conclude that the use of repeat UAV surveys coupled with the processing techniques outlined in this paper have great potential for elucidating the complex frontal dynamics that characterise large calving outlet glaciers.

Short summary
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with a commercial digital camera enabled us to obtain high-resolution digital images of the calving front of Store glacier, Greenland. The three sorties flown enabled key glaciological parameters to be quantified in sufficient detail to reveal that the terminus of Store glacier is a complex system with large variations in crevasse patterns surface velocities, calving processes, surface elevations and front positions at a daily and seasonal timescale.