The meltwater system of disintegrating ice sheets provides an important source of information for the reconstruction of ice-retreat patterns during deglaciation. Recent method development in glacial geomorphology, using satellite imagery and digital elevation models (DEMs) for glacial landform mapping, has predominantly been focused on the identification of lineation and other large-scale accumulation features. Landforms created by meltwater have often been neglected in these efforts. Meltwater features such as channels, deltas and fossil shorelines were traditionally mapped using stereo interpretation of aerial photographs. However, during the transition into the digital era, driven by a wish to cover large areas more economically, meltwater features were lost in most mapping surveys. We have evaluated different sets of satellite images and DEMs for their suitability to map glacial meltwater features (lateral meltwater channels, eskers, deltas, ice-dammed lake drainage channels and fossil shorelines) in comparison with the traditional mapping from aerial photographs. Several sets of satellite images and DEMs were employed to map the landform record of three reference areas, located in northwestern Scotland, northeastern Finland and western Sweden. The employed satellite imagery consisted of Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+), Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre (SPOT) 5 and Indian Remote Sensing (IRS)1C, and the DEMs used were from NEXTMap Britain, Panorama, National elevation data set of Sweden and National Land Survey of Finland. ASTER images yielded better results than the panchromatic band of Landsat 7 ETM+ in all three regions, despite the same spatial resolution of the data. In agreement with previous studies, this study shows that DEMs display accumulation features such as eskers suitably well. Satellite images are shown to be insufficiently detailed for the interpretation of smaller features such as meltwater channels. Hence, satellite imagery and DEMs of intermediate resolution contain meltwater system information only at a general level that allows for the identification of landforms of medium to large sizes. It is therefore pertinent that data with an appropriate spatial and spectral resolution are accessed to fulfil the need of a particular mapping effort. Stereointerpretation of aerial photographs continues to be an advisable method for local meltwater system reconstructions; alternatively, it can be replaced by mapping fromhigh-resolution DEMs such as NEXTMap Britain. For regional to sub-continental reconstructions, the use of ASTER satellite imagery is recommended, because it provides both spectral and spatial resolutions suitable for the identification of meltwater features on a medium to large scale.
2012. Vol. 33, no 8, 2355-2377 p.