PERS_May2014_Flipping - page 386

Remote Sensing Challenges in
Mountainous Regions
John All, Executive Director, American Climber Science
Program; Department of Geography and Geology, Western
Kentucky University
Remote sensing technology is advancing at a dizzying pace as ever more
accurate sensors and analysis techniques emerge. However, while this
cornucopia provides us with seemingly unlimited tools, there is still the
need for ground reference data and other ancillary data so that the radiative
transfer state variables translate into biophysical variables of interest. The
American Climber Science Program (ACSP) is on the cutting edge of this
process as we explore some of the harshest areas on Earth – from Central
American mountain rain forest to the summit of Mt. Everest - and gather data
that is integrated through remote sensing to create holistic understandings of
these environmental systems. The ACSP is an integrated research program
designed to facilitate field data collection opportunities for scientists in
regions that are difficult to access. Scientists and climbers come together
for expeditions to collect in situ data for scientific projects and to share their
enthusiasm for the mountains. Research expeditions are also designed
to provide opportunities for non-
scientists to learn about scientific
practices as well as to instruct future
scientists on safety in mountain
The ACSP’s central tenet is inte-
grated research and our expeditions
are formed of scientists and stu-
dents from diverse disciplines. Each
participant leads their individual
project and also assists in data gath-
ering for all of the expedition studies.
We gather a variety of ground data:
from spectroradiometer readings to
glacier particulate composition and
quantity to interviews of local yak
herders on grazing patterns. This
information is then integrated and
regionalized using remote sensing
data to help inform local resource management and conservation efforts in
coordination with various stakeholders. At the end of the day, we seek out
research projects with maximum societal benefit and scientific innovation.
Over the next year, we will be periodically sharing ACSP work from Central
America, Africa, the Himalayas, and the Andes as
Highlight articles.
More information can be found about the ACSP at
and we invite collaborators in all disciplines.
Our first example will be from the ACSP Cordillera Blanca expeditions in
Peru. In association with
the American Alpine Club, the Peruvian Ministry of
the Environment, HuascaranNational Park, and several Peruvian Universities,
the ACSP has conducted research expeditions where, among other things,
we have sampled anthropogenic pollutants deposited on glaciers. These
pollutants can lead to increased glacier melt rates and the article which
follows discusses the issues involved in using remote sensing techniques to
detect these pollutants.
John All collecting ground reference data above the
Khumbu Valley in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal.
A substantial proportion of humanity
depends on glaciers or seasonal snow melt
for their water supply (Barnett et al., 2005).
Tropical glaciers are a key water supply for
many cities and a great deal of agriculture;
however, these glaciers are receding at an
alarming rate (Rabatel et al., 2013). Global
climate change is leading to increasing
temperatures globally; higher tropospheric
temperatures are one of the prime factors leading
to glacier melt, especially at lower latitudes. An
additional anthropogenic impact on glaciers is
increased levels of pollution in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric pollutants such as black carbon
particles can be deposited on glacier surfaces
through precipitation processes or through ‘dry
deposition’. Black carbon on glacier surfaces
increases the rate of melting due to absorption of
light that would otherwise be reflected (Painter et
al., 2013). Although studies have shown that the
albedo impact of black carbon on
glaciers is significant, the actual
extent of black carbon deposition
on tropical glaciers has yet to be
Remote sensing of black
carbon on tropical glaciers can
give us a better understanding
of the extent of the problem.
However, there are a number of
challenges for determining glacial
black carbon concentrations
from remote sensing and in-situ
measurements of black carbon
can greatly enhance the accuracy
of derived indices. In this article
we discuss the remote sensing
challenges as well as some techniques for solving
them using ground data collection.
A series of research expeditions have been
conducted in the Peruvian Andes over the past
three years by the American Climber Science
Program (ACSP) and some of the data collected
was used as ground truth to reference remote
sensing measurements on glaciers (Schmitt et al.,
2013). Observations from the ACSP expeditions
as they relate to the uncertainties in remote
sensing measurements of black carbon in glaciers
will be discussed, as well as preliminary results
that could be used to guide future observations.
May 2014
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