Evolution of supra-glacial lakes across the Greenland Ice Sheet

A. V. Sundal, A. Shepherd, P. Nienow, E. Hanna, S. Palmer, P. Huybrechts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used 268 cloud-free Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images from 2003 and 2005-2007 to study the seasonal evolution of supra-glacial lakes in three different regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Lake area estimates were obtained by developing an automated classification method for their identification based on 250 m resolution MODIS surface reflectance observations. Widespread supra-glacial lake formation and drainage is observed across the ice sheet, with a 2-3 week delay in the evolution of total supra-glacial lake area in the northern areas compared to the south-west. The onset of lake growth varies by up to one month inter-annually, and lakes form and drain at progressively higher altitudes during the melt season. A positive correlation was found between the annual peak in total lake area and modelled annual runoff. High runoff and lake extent years are generally characterised by low accumulation and high melt season temperatures, and vice versa. Our results indicate that, in a future warmer climate [Meehl, G. A., Stocker, T. F., Collins W. D., Friedlingstein, P., Gaye, A. T., Gregory, J. M., Kitoh, A., Knutti, R., Murphy, J. M., Noda, A., Raper, S. C. B., Watterson, I. G., Weaver, A. J. & Zhao, Z. C. (2007). Global Climate Projections. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. B. Averyt, M. Tignor & H. L Miller (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, MY, USA.], Greenland supra-glacial lakes can be expected to form at higher altitudes and over a longer time period than is presently the case, expanding the area and time period over which connections between the ice sheet surface and base may be established [Das, S., Joughin, M., Behn, M., Howat, L, King, M., Lizarr aide, D., & Bhatia, M. (2008). Fracture propagation to the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet during supra-glacial lake drainage. Science, 5877, 778-781] with potential consequences for ice sheet discharge [Zwally, H.J., Abdalati, W., Herring, T., Larson, K., Saba, J. & Steffen, K. (2002). Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland Ice Sheet flow. Science, 297, 218-221.]. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2164-2171
Number of pages8
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number10
Early online date26 Jun 2009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009


  • Greenland
  • Supra-glacial lakes
  • Image classification


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