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Field Spectroscopy Facility (FSF) Equipment helps Edinburgh University Researchers map retreating Andes glaciers

Rosie Bissett, an Edinburgh University Researcher has used thermal cameras from FSF (NCEO’s Field Spectroscopy Facility at the University of Edinburgh) to capture a bird’s-eye view of some of the highest glaciers in South America.

Rosie Bisset is part of a project to map the Andes glaciers which are retreating in the face of global heating, despite their high altitude. Experts say these glaciers are a vital resource which are under threat. The glaciers in Peru have shrunk by about 30% in the last couple of decades. Peter Nienow, professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh, said it could have a devastating effect on local people.

“In the Andes in Peru, which have about 70% of the world’s glacier area in the tropics, those glacial areas are retreating,” he said. “As they retreat that impacts downstream communities because they rely on the water resources for agriculture, for industry, for hydroelectric power.”

According to Rosie the use of thermal imagery can help to generate a map of surface temperature on the glacier and provide more information about the properties of the surface and how it’s influencing the melt rates of the glaciers.

Dr Andrew Gray from FSF, located in GeoSciences at University of Edinburgh comments:

“We provide equipment enabling researchers to “ground truth” their data. We host different types of sensors – multispectral cameras,” he said. “They’re sort of like normal cameras but they can see further into the electromagnetic spectrum. They’re very precisely calibrated as well.

They have any number of applications, things like looking at different types of vegetation, biodiversity, studying biomass or different ecosystems. For example you could map forests and things like rhododendron encroachment.”

Rosie Bisset is still working on her findings for inclusion in her PhD thesis. Her research is primarily funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) with additional support from the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society.

This article was first published on the BBC website here

Thermal imagery used to generate a map of the surface temperature of the glacier
Rosie Bisset used specially-adapted drones to study the glaciers in the Andes
Drone fitted with a thermal imaging camera from FSF that had to be able to withstand high altitudes