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Geodetic Data for USGS Benchmark Glaciers: Orthophotos, Digital Elevation Models, Glacier Boundaries and Surveyed Positions

March 1, 2022

Since the late 1950s, the USGS has maintained a long-term glacier mass-balance program at three North American glaciers. Measurements began on South Cascade Glacier, WA in 1958, expanding to Gulkana and Wolverine glaciers, AK in 1966, and later Sperry Glacier, MT in 2005. Additional measurements have been made on Lemon Creek Glacier, AK to compliment data collected by the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP; Pelto and others, 2013). Direct field measurements are combined with weather data and imagery analyses to estimate the seasonal and annual mass balance at each glacier in both a conventional and reference surface format (Cogley and others, 2011). The analysis framework (O'Neel and others, 2019, van Beusekom and others, 2010) is identical at each glacier to enable cross-comparison between output time series. Vocabulary used follows Cogley and others (2011) Glossary of Glacier Mass Balance.
This portion of the data release includes geodetic data used in mass balance analyses. The USGS uses geodetic data to quantify glacier area, glacier hypsometry, and the change in glacier volume and mass (e.g., Cogley and others 2011; Zemp and others 2013; van Beusekom and others, 2010; O'Neel and others 2014). Here we describe these basin-scale data, how they are produced, and the format in which they are preserved and disseminated.
Gridded products comprise the first class of data and include orthorectified images and Digital Elevation Models (DEMs). Prior to the early 2000s, these grids were derived from aerial stereo photography or historic topographic maps. More recently, high-resolution space-borne imagery facilitated DEM and ortho-image production using approaches described herein.
The second class of data are vector geospatial files of glacier margins. These are interpreted products, produced via manual digitization of the boundary between rock and ice identified from ortho-rectified images, or the boundary between neighboring glaciers identified from ice divide velocity maps.
The third class of data are point data from GNSS surveys. These include post-processed points that represent mass balance stake locations, glacier surface elevations, installations, and points of interest on and around these glaciers.