Field work is an essential part of glaciology. Within glaciology, we separate between field work, which mainly takes place at or above the surface, and methods, which employ drilling and analysis techniques for ice cores. The latter are per se a very broad field and are explained in more detail under Ice core research.

Likewise, there is a transition from airborne techniques towards satellite remote sensing. In summary, the field glaciology considers measurement methods from the areas of glaciology, geophysics, geodesy and employs them on glaciers, ice sheets, shelves and streams. The image below represents a schematic cross section through an ice sheet and illustrates typical measurement properties in glaciology.

schematic 2D section through an ice sheet (Graphic: Olaf Eisen, Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

Which methods do we use to measure ...

surface properties


  • Altimetry (Laser, Radar)
  • GPS
  • other geodatic methods


  • repeated surveys (GPS, Theodolite)

Snow studies:

  • Firn studies
  • Snow studies
  • Accumulation rates

ice-internal properties


Internal layering:

Internal deformation:

  • Borehole logging

subglacial properties

Subglacial topography:

Properties of subglacial substrate:

Till deformation:

  • Ploughmeter

Subglacial sliding:

  • Borehole slidometer
  • Inclinometry

Temperature (-regime):