UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Flow Routing for Delineating Supraglacial Meltwater Channel Networks King, Leonora; Hassan, Marwan A.; Yang, Kang; Flowers, Gwenn


Growing interest in supraglacial channels, coupled with the increasing availability of high-resolution remotely sensed imagery of glacier surfaces, motivates the development and testing of new approaches to delineating surface meltwater channels. We utilized a high-resolution (2 m) digital elevation model of parts of the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) and retention of visually identified sinks (i.e., moulins) to investigate the ability of a standard D8 flow routing algorithm to delineate supraglacial channels. We compared these delineated channels to manually digitized channels and to channels extracted from multispectral imagery. We delineated GrIS supraglacial channel networks in six high-elevation (above 1000 m) and one low-elevation (below 1000 m) catchments during and shortly after peak melt (July and August 2012), and investigated the effect of contributing area threshold on flow routing performance. We found that, although flow routing is sensitive to data quality and moulin identification, it can identify 75% to 99% of channels observed with multispectral analysis, as well as low-order, high-density channels (up to 15.7 km/km² with a 0.01 km² contributing area threshold) in greater detail than multispectral methods. Additionally, we found that flow routing can delineate supraglacial channel networks on rough ice surfaces with widespread crevassing. Our results suggest that supraglacial channel density is sufficiently high during peak melt that low contributing area thresholds can be employed with little risk of overestimating the channel network extent.

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