Long-range terrestrial laser scanning measurements of annual and intra-annual mass balances for Urumqi Glacier No. 1, eastern Tien Shan, China
The direct glaciological method provides in situ observations of annual or seasonal surface mass balance, but can only be implemented through a succession of intensive in situ measurements of field networks of stakes and snow pits. This has contributed to glacier surface mass-balance measurements being sparse and often discontinuous in the Tien Shan. Nevertheless, long-term glacier mass-balance measurements are the basis for understanding climate–glacier interactions and projecting future water availability for glacierized catchments in the Tien Shan. Riegl VZ®-6000 long-range terrestrial laser scanner (TLS), typically using class 3B laser beams, is exceptionally well suited for repeated glacier mapping, and thus determination of annual and seasonal geodetic mass balance. This paper introduces the applied TLS for monitoring summer and annual surface elevation and geodetic mass changes of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 as well as delineating accurate glacier boundaries for 2 consecutive mass-balance years (2015–2017), and discusses the potential of such technology in glaciological applications. Three-dimensional changes of ice and firn–snow bodies and the corresponding densities were considered for the volume-to-mass conversion. The glacier showed pronounced thinning and mass loss for the four investigated periods; glacier-wide geodetic mass balance in the mass-balance year 2015–2016 was slightly more negative than in 2016–2017. Statistical comparison shows that agreement between the glaciological and geodetic mass balances can be considered satisfactory, indicating that the TLS system yields accurate results and has the potential to monitor remote and inaccessible glacier areas where no glaciological measurements are available as the vertical velocity component of the glacier is negligible. For wide applications of the TLS in glaciology, we should use stable scan positions and in-situ-measured densities of snow–firn to establish volume-to-mass conversion.