Changes in Canadian Arctic Ice Shelf Extent Since 1906

  • Derek Mueller
  • Luke Copland
  • Martin O. Jeffries
Part of the Springer Polar Sciences book series (SPPS)


The ice shelves along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island have been in a state of decline since at least the early twentieth century. Available data derived from explorers’ journals, aerial photographs and satellite imagery have been compiled into a single geospatial database of ice shelf and glacier ice tongue extent over 13 observation periods between 1906 and 2015. During this time there was a loss of 8,061 km2 (94%) in ice shelf area. The vast majority of this loss occurred via episodic calving, in particular during the first six decades of the twentieth century. More recently, between 1998 and 2015, 515 km2 of shelf ice calved. Some ice shelves also thinned in situ, transitioning to thinner and weaker ice types that can no longer be considered ice shelf, although the timing of this shift is difficult to constrain with the methods used here. Some ice shelves composed partly of ice tongues (glacier or composite ice shelves) also disintegrated to the point where the ice tongues were isolated, representing a loss of ice shelf extent. Our digitization methods are typically repeatable to within 3%, and generally agree with past determinations of extent. The break-up of these massive features is an ongoing phenomenon, and it is hoped that the comprehensive dataset presented here will provide a basis for comparison of future changes in this region.


Ice shelf Ice tongue Break-up Calving Climate change Change detection Remote sensing Geographic Information System (GIS) Arctic 



Corona imagery was acquired through the US Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer ( and SPOT imagery was obtained courtesy of SPOT Image Corporation. We are indebted to the Alaska Satellite Facility, University of Alaska Fairbanks for providing ERS-1 and RADARSAT-1 imagery from (1992 to 2006). Some supplemental RADARSAT-1 imagery (1998–2006) was accessed through the Polar Data Catalogue ( RADARSAT-2 data from 2009 to 2015 were provided by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) under the RADARSAT-2 Government Data Allocation administered by the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) and the Canadian Space Agency’s Science and Operational Applications Research – Education (SOAR-E) program (project #5054 and #5106). RADARSAT-2 Data and Products are copyright MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Ltd., 2009–2015 – All Rights Reserved. Georeferencing of imagery was conducted in part by Laura Derksen and Mustafa Naziri. Spatial queries and image projections were performed by Sougal Bouh Ali. We are grateful for funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), ArcticNet, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Research Fund, Ontario Graduate Scholarships, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and the Northern Scientific Training Program, and for field support from the Polar Continental Shelf Program. A special thanks to our colleagues and students who have provided insights and valuable discussions over the years, including Adrienne White, Andrew Hamilton, Miriam Richer-McCallum, Sierra Pope and Colleen Mortimer. We also thank Alison Cook and Christian Haas for peer-reviewing this manuscript and providing useful suggestions for improvement.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Mueller
    • 1
  • Luke Copland
    • 2
  • Martin O. Jeffries
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental StudiesCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Geography, Environment and GeomaticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Office of Naval ResearchArctic and Global Prediction ProgramArlingtonUSA

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