Landsat-based inventory of glaciers in western Canada, 1985-2005

Tobias Bolch*, Brian Menounos, Roger Wheate

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

451 Citations (Scopus)


We report on a glacier inventory for the Canadian Cordillera south of 60°N, across the two western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, containing ~ 30,000 km2 of glacierized terrain. Our semi-automated method extracted glacier extents from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) scenes for 2005 and 2000 using a band ratio (TM3/TM5). We compared these extents with glacier cover for the mid-1980s from high-altitude, aerial photography for British Columbia and from Landsat TM imagery for Alberta. A 25 m digital elevation model (DEM) helped to identify debris-covered ice and to split the glaciers into their respective drainage basins. The estimated mapping errors are 3-4% and arise primarily from seasonal snow cover. Glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta respectively lost - 10.8 ± 3.8% and - 25.4% ± 4.1% of their area over the period 1985-2005. The region-wide annual shrinkage rate of - 0.55% a- 1 is comparable to rates reported for other mountain ranges in the late twentieth century. Least glacierized mountain ranges with smaller glaciers lost the largest fraction of ice cover: the highest relative ice loss in British Columbia (- 24.0 ± 4.6%) occurred in the northern Interior Ranges, while glaciers in the northern Coast Mountains declined least (- 7.7 ± 3.4%).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-137
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2010


  • Band ratio
  • Glacier inventory
  • Glacier recession
  • Image classification
  • Landsat TM
  • Scaling method
  • Western Canada


Dive into the research topics of 'Landsat-based inventory of glaciers in western Canada, 1985-2005'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this