Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Research article
28 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 28 Jan 2013

Ice tectonic deformation during the rapid in situ drainage of a supraglacial lake on the Greenland Ice Sheet

S. H. Doyle, A. L. Hubbard, C. F. Dow, G. A. Jones, A. Fitzpatrick, A. Gusmeroli, B. Kulessa, K. Lindback, R. Pettersson, and J. E. Box

Abstract. We present detailed records of lake discharge, ice motion and passive seismicity capturing the behaviour and processes preceding, during and following the rapid drainage of a 4 km2 supraglacial lake through 1.1-km-thick ice on the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Peak discharge of 3300 m3 s−1 coincident with maximal rates of vertical uplift indicates that surface water accessed the ice–bed interface causing widespread hydraulic separation and enhanced basal motion. The differential motion of four global positioning system (GPS) receivers located around the lake record the opening and closure of the fractures through which the lake drained. We hypothesise that the majority of discharge occurred through a 3-km-long fracture with a peak width averaged across its wetted length of 0.4 m. We argue that the fracture's kilometre-scale length allowed rapid discharge to be achieved by combining reasonable water velocities with sub-metre fracture widths. These observations add to the currently limited knowledge of in situ supraglacial lake drainage events, which rapidly deliver large volumes of water to the ice–bed interface.