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We have adapted inexpensive ultrasonic rangefinders to measure ablation rates on the surface of a glacier.While ultrasonic rangers are commercially available for this purpose, our goal was to utilize rangefinders typically used in hobby robotics without significantly compromising performance. To correct for environmental factors that affect the speed of sound we use two ultrasonic rangefinders, one focused on a fixed target. Measurements of ablation correlate well with manual measurements with an uncertainty of about 3 cm, suggesting an accuracy comparable with other non-manual methods of recording ablation. The limitations of our rangefinder include those inherent in commercially available units as well as having less acoustical power, which results in a reduced effective range of the sensor (2m) and difficulties in detecting surfaces lying below low-density snow. Our sensor design provides a cost-effective means of increasing the spatial coverage of ice ablation measurements.


Definitive version available from Journal of Glaciology, vol. 58, no. 209, 2012 (

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