1National Snow and Ice Data Center, 449 UCB, University of Colorado – Boulder, CO 80309-0559, USA
2Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, 450 UCB, University of Colorado – Boulder, CO 80309-0450, USA
3Department of Physical Geography & Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, SE – 106 92 Stockholm, Sweden
4HyMet Inc., 13629 Burma Rd. SW, Vashon Island, WA 98070, USA
5Geography Program, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, B.C. V2N 4Z9, Canada
Abstract. The Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) project has developed tools and methods that can be employed by analysts to create accurate glacier outlines. To illustrate the importance of accurate glacier outlines and the effectiveness of GLIMS standards we conducted a case study on Bering Glacier System (BGS), Alaska. BGS is a complex glacier system aggregated from multiple drainage basins, numerous tributaries, and many accumulation areas. Published measurements of BGS surface area vary from 1740 to 6200 km2, depending on how the boundaries of this system have been defined. Utilizing GLIMS tools and standards we have completed a new outline (3630 km2) and analysis of the area-altitude distribution (hypsometry) of BGS using Landsat images from 2000 and 2001 and a US Geological Survey 15-min digital elevation model. We compared this new hypsometry with three different hypsometries to illustrate the errors that result from the widely varying estimates of BGS extent. The use of different BGS hypsometries results in highly variable measures of volume change and net balance (bn). Applying a simple hypsometry-dependent mass-balance model to different hypsometries results in a bn rate range of −1.0 to −3.1 m a−1 water equivalent (W.E.), a volume change range of −3.8 to −6.7 km3 a−1 W.E., and a near doubling in contributions to sea level equivalent, 0.011 mm a−1 to 0.019 mm a−1. Current inaccuracies in glacier outlines hinder our ability to correctly quantify glacier change. Understanding of glacier extents can become comprehensive and accurate. Such accuracy is possible with the increasing volume of satellite imagery of glacierized regions, recent advances in tools and standards, and dedication to this important task.