Distribution and seasonal evolution of supraglacial lakes on Shackleton Ice Shelf, East Antarctica

Arthur, Jennifer F. and Stokes, Chris R. and Jamieson, Stewart S. R. and Carr, J. Rachel and Leeson, Amber A. (2020) Distribution and seasonal evolution of supraglacial lakes on Shackleton Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. The Cryosphere, 14. 4103–4120.

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Supraglacial lakes (SGLs) enhance surface melting and can flex and fracture ice shelves when they grow and subsequently drain, potentially leading to ice shelf disintegration. However, the seasonal evolution of SGLs and their influence on ice shelf stability in East Antarctica remains poorly understood, despite some potentially vulnerable ice shelves having high densities of SGLs. Using optical satellite imagery, air temperature data from climate reanalysis products and surface melt predicted by a regional climate model, we present the first long-term record (2000–2020) of seasonal SGL evolution on Shackleton Ice Shelf, which is Antarctica’s northernmost remaining ice shelf and buttresses Denman Glacier, a major outlet of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. In a typical melt season, we find hundreds of SGLs with a mean area of 0.02 km2, a mean depth of 0.96 m, and a mean total meltwater volume of 7.45 x 106 m3. At their most extensive, SGLs cover a cumulative area of 50.7 km2 and are clustered near to the grounding line, where densities approach 0.27 km2 per km2. Here, SGL development is linked to an albedo-lowering feedback associated with katabatic winds, together with the presence of blue ice and exposed rock. Although below average seasonal (December-January-February, DJF) temperatures are associated with below average peaks in total SGL area and volume, warmer seasonal temperatures do not necessarily result in higher SGL areas and volumes. Rather, peaks in total SGL area and volume show a much closer correspondence with short-lived high magnitude snowmelt events. We therefore suggest seasonal lake evolution on this ice shelf is instead more sensitive to snowmelt intensity associated with katabatic wind-driven melting. Our analysis provides important constraints on the boundary conditions of supraglacial hydrology models and numerical simulations of ice shelf stability.

Item Type:
Journal Article
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The Cryosphere
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06 Jul 2020 15:00
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 02:51