Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
Research article
14 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 14 Jan 2014

A decade (2002–2012) of supraglacial lake volume estimates across Russell Glacier, West Greenland

A. A. W. Fitzpatrick, A. L. Hubbard, J. E. Box, D. J. Quincey, D. van As, A. P. B. Mikkelsen, S. H. Doyle, C. F. Dow, B. Hasholt, and G. A. Jones

Abstract. Supraglacial lakes represent an ephemeral storage buffer for meltwater runoff and lead to significant, yet short-lived, episodes of ice-flow acceleration by decanting large meltwater and energy fluxes into the ice sheet's hydrological system. Here, a methodology for calculating lake volume is used to quantify storage and drainage across Russell Glacier, West Greenland, between 2002 and 2012. Using 502 MODIS scenes, water volume at ~200 seasonally occurring lakes was derived using a depth–reflectance relationship, which was independently calibrated and field validated against lake bathymetry. The inland expansion of lakes is strongly correlated with air temperature: during the record melt years of 2010 and 2012, lakes formed and drained earlier, attaining their maximum volume 38 and 20 days earlier than the 11 yr mean, as well as occupying a greater area and forming at higher elevations (> 1800 m) than previously. Despite occupying under 2% of the study area, lakes delay the transmission of up to 7–13% of the bulk meltwater discharged. Although the results are subject to an observational bias caused by periods of cloud cover, we estimate that across Russell Glacier, 28% of supraglacial lakes drain rapidly (< 4 days). Clustering of such events in space and time suggests a synoptic trigger mechanism. Further, we find no evidence to support a unifying critical size or depth-dependent drainage threshold.