Nottingham scientists use photos of glaciers to digitally reconstruct them for now-and-then comparisons

Two of the photos used for the digital reconstructions of glaciers in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago (Older picture credit: Norsk Polarinstitutt)

A team of Nottingham scientists have digitally reconstructed glaciers using photos to study how they have changed over time in detail.

The scientists at Nottingham Trent University have used a new type of image processing to recreate the surface of the glaciers from photographs.

Aerial photographs of two glaciers in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, which were taken as part of a detailed mapping campaign in 1936, were used.

Using these images, they produced a correct-scale vertical view of the scene, which was used to assess surface structure of the glaciers and the extent of recession at the front of the glacier between 1936 to 2003 – found to be one kilometre.

They also found the ice margins of the two glaciers in 1936 were around 80m thicker than in 2003.

A surface bulge was found on one of the glaciers which is linked to very fast glacier flow.

One of the photos used to digitally recreate how the glacier looked in 1936 (Older picture credit: Norsk Polarinstitutt)

Scientist and lead author of the project Dr Nick Midgley said: “Archive imagery clearly provides an exciting avenue for geoscientific research, with historical image sources offering a low-cost and rapid method for extracting important surface data.

“We can now measure in fantastic detail how the surface has changed over time, which is hugely important in terms of glacier change.

“We want to utilise this technique further to examine surface change in places like Svalbard to assess glacier change during the twentieth century.”

How the same glacier looks today

As part of the study, photogrammetry – the science of making measurements from pictures – was used in the form of a technique called ‘structure-from-motion’ to assess differences depth and distance.

This study predates the period of direct measurement of glaciers which is used today with the Arctic experiencing more rapid climate change than other parts of the world.

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