Remote-sensing Resources for Monitoring Glacier Fluctuations on Axel Heiberg Island


  • J. Graham Cogley
  • W.P. Adams



Axel Heiberg Island, glacier monitoring, remote sensing, terminus fluctuations


We document the abundant resources available for the photographic reconstruction of glacier terminus positions in the Canadian High Arctic, with particular reference to Axel Heiberg Island. Early terrestrial photographs may yet be discovered in the archives of explorers, but systematic photography of the High Arctic began with aerial coverage by the U.S. Air Force's Operation Polaris in the early 1940s. This oblique (trimetrogon) coverage was completed by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1950s, and the coverage of vertical photography was completed in the late 1950s. Thereafter the resources become intermittent, but Axel Heiberg Island glaciers have been imaged quite frequently from the air. Visible-band satellite imagery is available from as early as 1962, but the number of useful archived images is limited by persistent, extensive cloud cover and, for some satellites, by distance of the region from ground receiving stations. Radar imagery, which is free of the cloud constraint, has recently become available both from the air and from space. We illustrate the potential of the photographic record by extending back to 1948 an earlier analysis of the terminus fluctuations of White and Thompson Glaciers. Analysis of an oblique photograph demonstrates a significantly more rapid retreat of White Glacier during 1948-60 than during 1960-95, while the advance of Thompson Glacier between 1948 and 1960, at 58 m/a, was almost three times faster than thereafter.