Posted on August 7th, 2018

Our Changing Landscape – Glacier National Park

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 14 billion square kilometers of data. In July, we checked out the violent explosions of Mount Sinabung, and this month we travel back to the USA to check out shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park, Montana.


Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Glacier National Park, Montana, USA on August 20, 2009, August 5, 2012, August 8, 2015, September 25, 2015 and August 25, 2017. In this animation (and yes sorry the dates are nearly impossible to read), we believe Sperry Glacier is the ice mass at the northwest of the image. Either way you can see significant changes in these glaciers year after year with maximum coverage extents in the 2012 data. We tried to pick images as close in date as possible to account for differences in years. We also picked two images from 2015 to show how the month could impact coverage/melting. Despite temperature differences on the same day year after year, in our humble opinion, these 5-m RapidEye images confirm glacial retreat in this national park is undeniable. (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2018)

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

The Receding of Sperry Glacier

Unless you have literally lived under a rock for the past 33 years (which would make reading this article very challenging!), you are aware that our global climate is rapidly heating up – in fact, during May 2018, the temperatures over Europe and the contiguous United States were some 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3.0 degrees Celsius) above their 20th Century average. With this in mind, it might come with little shock to you that the world’s glaciers are melting away rapidly during our boiling summer months. According to NASA, the world has lost an alarming 400 billion tons of glacier per year since 1994. It has been estimated that if we lose all of our global glacier coverage, the seas could rise by some 230 feet (70 meters) – take a minute and think about that: New York, Miami, Bangkok, Venice, Perth and so many more coastal metropolitans flooded under tens of feet of water.

Now to bring this conversation down to the location of focus in this article, according to the USGS, since 1966 glaciers in Montana have shrunk by up to 85%. When considering Glacier National Park specifically, of the 150 glaciers that existed in the late 1800s, only 26 still remain. At the current rate of melting, scientists estimate that the park will lose all of the remaining named glaciers in the next two decades. Given the enormity of Glacier National Park we focus on Sperry Glacier in the 5-meter RapidEye animation that is included here. Once covering more than 800 acres, the glacier has shrunk to 250 acres or even less – sad stuff folks, and now it’s time to get even sadder by checking out the animation…

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at sales@apollomapping.com or (303) 993-3863.

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