Exploring present-day glaciers in a GIS


This is a free GIS app that you can use to explore the glaciers and sea ice around Antarctica. Quantarctica is easy to use ,and includes base maps, satellite imagery, glaciology and geophysics data from data centres around the world, prepared for viewing in QGIS.

Quantartica is probably suitable for more advanced users, at post-16 or in Higher Education.


Global glacier outlines and recession

The Randolph Glacier Inventory is an amazing international collaborative effort that includes outlines of every glacier in the world, in an internally consistent manner. It is the baseline dataset used by the IPCC and by the following datasets concerned with global glacier ice volume, velocity and thinning.

You can find out more about the RGI here: https://www.glims.org/RGI/

In the GLIMS (Global Land-Ice Measurements from Space) app, you can view and download not only glacier outlines, but also glacier outlines from the past, and view glacier recesison. This would make a great introductory class for glaciers (where are the glaciers in the world?) and you could also use the data in a GIS class.

Overlay the glaciers on satellite images (e.g. Landsat images are freely available from NASA) for a wonderfully immersive practical for the students.

GLIMS/RGI Glaciers showing current worldwide glacier extent.

Global glacier ice volume

Building on the Randolph Glacier Inventory, you can explore the dataset of global glacier velocity and ice volume by Millan et al. 2022 (see my commentary here) in this cool map. It shows how thick and how fas tthe glaciers flowing.

Glaciers of the World map app, using data from Millan et al. 2022.

Global glacier thinning

Hugonnet et al. (2021) provide an unprecedented dataset of global glacier thinning, 2000-2019.

There aren’t many accompanying resources but the data are all freely available and you can explore them in this Theia app, again making a great immersive practical for students.

The About section (top left) gives more information on global glacier elevation change.

Theia cartographic layers: global glacier elevation change (Hugonnet et al., 2021)

WGMS Fluctuations of Glaciers

The World Glacier Monitoring Service has created, in association with ESRI ArcGIS, a browser for investigating the fluctuations of glaciers.

The data are overlain on Google Earth imagery, but you can also choose Bing roads, OpenStreetMap and a variety of other basemaps.

This is a great introductory tool for post-16 students.

When you zoom into an area, you see circles with numbers in. Clicking on these circles brings up a popup with information about the glacier, including glacier length change over time. Clicking on the graph opens it fully in another tab.

This is a really interactive way of learning all about glacier length fluctuations and glacier recession over time. How fast are glaciers receding? Where are they receding fastest? Get the students to think about how the data are created, how reliable the data are, and how consistent the story of glacier recession is.

Google Earth

Google Earth has fabulous satellite images of Antarctica, Iceland, Patagonia, the UK and everywhere else in the world. It lets you explore the continent from the comfort of your sofa. There are fabulous images of crevasses, glaciers, moraines and more.  Google Earth pro allows you to map directly in Google Earth, so you could set a task identifying and mapping moraines, for example.

This can be a great and simple practical to set up, for both introductory levels and at post-16 and for students in Higher Education as well.

Drumlins around lago Viedma, South Patagonian Icefield. The background image is Landsat 7 ETM+ from 2001. Mapped in Google Earth Pro.

Explore Scott’s hut through the Google World Wonders project.

Land Viewer

This subscription service developed by EOS is a satellite observation imagery tool aimed at industry and business use. High-resolution images ranging from 0.4 meters per pixel can be purchased at a reasonably low cost. This online program has a range of useful GIS tools, with the potential to produce timeseries data and timelapse animations. A free version of Land Viewer is available, with access to several features and a limit to downloads.

Land Viewer

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