Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 14, Issue 9, pp 1776–1790 | Cite as

A simple method to extract glacier length based on Digital Elevation Model and glacier boundaries for simple basin type glacier

  • Qin Ji
  • Tai-bao Yang
  • Yi He
  • Yan Qin
  • Jun Dong
  • Fan-sheng Hu


Glacier length is a key morphological element that has many glaciological applications; however, it is often difficult to determine, especially for glaciers that cover larger spatial areas or those that exhibit frequent temporal change. In this paper, we describe a new ArcGIS-based method that can derive glacier flow lines for determining glacier length based on digital elevation model and glacier outlines. This method involves (1) extraction of the highest and lowest points on a glacier, (2) calculation of 10-m contour lines on the glacier from 10 m to 100 m height, and (3) connection of the midpoints of each contour line with the highest and the lowest points in order to create a flow line, which is subsequently smoothed. In order to assess the reliability of this method, we tested the algorithm’s results against flow lines calculated using field measurements, analysing data from the Chinese Glacier Inventory, and manual interpretation. These data showed that the new automated method is effective in deriving glacier flow lines when contour lines are relatively large; in particular, when they are between 70 m and 100 m. Nonetheless, a key limitation of the algorithm is the requirement to automatically delete repeated and closed curves in the pre-treatment processes. In addition to calculating glacier flow lines for derivation of glacier length, this method also can be used to effectively determine glacier terminus change.


Glacier length Flow lines Glacier boundary DEM ArcGIS 


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We thank the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the Geospatial Data Cloud for providing access to the Landsat scenes and ASTER GDEM data. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation of China (grant Nos. 41271024, 41444430204, and J1210065) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Nos. lzujbky-2016-266 and lzujbky-2016-270).


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Glaciology and Ecogeography, College of Earth and Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Faculty of GeomaticsLanzhou Jiaotong UniversityLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Research Center for Arid Area and Desert, College of Earth and Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina

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