Old aerial images and drone photography reveal scale of ice loss since 1980s

By Lucy Christie, PA Scotland

Scientists have used old aerial images and drone photography to show the scale of ice loss from some of Iceland’s largest glaciers.

The composite images document changes to a group of glaciers on the south side of Vatnajokull, one of the largest ice caps in Europe, from the 1980s to the present day.

They were created by Dr Kieran Baxter from the University of Dundee using aerial mapping photographs and modelled in 3D using special software.

The images were created using a 3D process (University of Dundee/PA)

The models were aligned with present day drone photographs.

Dr Baxter, a researcher from the 3DVisLab at the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, said: “This method allows us to compose unique aerial views of past landscapes and to see how they have changed over the last 30 to 40 years.

“This period, which is within living memory for many people, has seen accelerated melt in south-east Iceland.

“While we have a fantastic resource of mapping photographs from the 1980s, this method can also be applied to aerial photographs that are even older.

“The archives are huge and we have barely scratched the surface in terms of using them to better show how the warming climate is revealed in our landscapes.”

The images show the ice receding (University of Dundee/PA)

Vatnajokull ice cap, which covers an area of 7,700 square kilometres, has lowered by around 20 metres on average in the last 30 years, researchers said.

The glacier ice margins are said to be retreating tens of metres, and in some areas hundreds of metres, every year.

The area of the icecap has been reduced by more than 400 square kilometres since the turn of the century.

Dr Baxter led the two-year project in collaboration with the University of Iceland and the Icelandic Meteorological Office, which conduct glacier monitoring in the country.