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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 27 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 27 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Lateral meltwater transfer across an Antarctic ice shelf

Rebecca Dell1,2, Neil Arnold1, Ian Willis1,3, Alison Banwell3,1, Andrew Williamson1, and Hamish Pritchard2 Rebecca Dell et al.
  • 1Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, UK
  • 2British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
  • 3Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, 80309, USA

Abstract. Surface meltwater on ice shelves can be stored as slush, in melt ponds, in surface streams and rivers, and may also fill crevasses. The collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002 has been attributed to the sudden drainage of ~ 3000 surface lakes, and has highlighted the potential for surface water to cause ice shelf instability. Surface meltwater systems have been identified across numerous Antarctic ice shelves, however, the extent to which these systems impact ice shelf instability is poorly constrained. To better understand the role of surface meltwater systems on ice shelves, it is important to track their seasonal development, monitoring the fluctuations in surface water volume and the transfer of water across the ice shelf. Here, we use Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2 imagery to track surface meltwater across the Nivlisen Ice Shelf in the 2016–2017 melt season. Using the Fully Automated Supraglacial-Water Tracking algorithm for Ice Shelves (FASTISh), we identify and track the development of 1598 water bodies. The total volume of surface meltwater peaks on 26th January 2017 at 5.5 × 107 m3. 63 % of this total volume is held within two large linear surface meltwater systems, which are orientated along the ice shelves north-south axis and appear to migrate away from the grounding line during the melt season, facilitating large scale lateral water transfer towards the ice shelf front. This transfer is facilitated by two large surface streams, which encompass smaller water bodies and follow the surface slope of the ice shelf.

Rebecca Dell et al.

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Rebecca Dell et al.

Rebecca Dell et al.


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Latest update: 05 Apr 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
A semi-automated method is developed from pre-existing work to track surface water bodies across Antarctic ice shelves over time, using data from Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8. This method is applied to the Nivlisen Ice Shelf for the 2016–2017 melt season. The results reveal two large linear meltwater systems, which hold 63 % of the peak total surface meltwater volume on the 26th January 2017. These meltwater systems migrate towards the ice shelf front as the melt season progresses.
A semi-automated method is developed from pre-existing work to track surface water bodies across...