A Quarter-Century of Glacier Recession in the Tropical Andes from Landsat: c1987 - c2013

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Daniel A Slayback, SSAI/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, United States and Compton J Tucker, NASA Goddard Space Flight Cen., Greenbelt, MD, United States
The glaciers of the tropical Andes constitute 99% of the world’s tropical glaciers. They primarily occur in Peru and Bolivia (90%) with smaller glaciers scattered across the peaks in Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Specific glaciers in the range have been studied in great detail, such as Bolivia's Zongo glacier and Peru's Quelccaya Ice Cap, but few studies of glacier recession across the full range have been published. We previously assessed glacier recession between c1987 and c2006 using manual classification techniques on Landsat imagery. We have now updated that study to the present (2013/2014), and and have incorporated automated techniques using support vector machines. The update to present allows us to examine both the variability in recession rates, and the current state of overall recession.

The primary issues in completing this analysis are accounting for snow cover (which can otherwise be easily misidentified as glacier), and developing a robust and semi-automated methodology to process the large number of individual images required. To avoid confusion with transient snow, we analysed 2-3 clear images at each epoch, with minimal visually apparent snow or glacier, and only labelled as glacier those pixels that were classified as glacier in the clear portions of each image. To automate the processing, we used support vector machines, trained with the extensive data we have available from our previous manual classification work.

Our previous work indicated an overall recession of approximately 30% (or 700 km2 of glacier area loss) between c1987 and c2006. We will present updated figures from our new analysis, extending to 2013/2014.