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Global Assessment of Supraglacial Debris‐Cover Extents

Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 45 (2018), 11,798-11,805


Rocky debris on glacier surfaces influences ice melt rates and the response of glaciers to climate change. However, scarce data on the extent and evolution of supraglacial debris cover have so far limited its inclusion in regional to global glacier models. Here we present global data sets of supraglacial debris‐cover extents, based on Landsat 8 and Sentinel‐2 optical satellite imagery. We find that about 4.4% (~26,000 km2) of all glacier areas (excluding the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica) are covered with debris, but that the distribution is heterogeneous. The largest debris‐covered areas are located in high‐mountain ranges, away from the poles. At a global scale, we find a negative scaling relationship between glacier size and percentage of debris. Therefore, the influence of debris cover on glacier mass balances is expected to increase in the future, as glaciers continue to shrink.

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