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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-101
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-101
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 30 Apr 2020

Submitted as: research article | 30 Apr 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

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

Jennifer F. Arthur1, Chris R. Stokes1, Stewart S. R. Jamieson1, J. Rachel Carr2, and Amber A. Leeson3 Jennifer F. Arthur et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
  • 2School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
  • 3Lancaster Environment Centre/Data Science Institute, Lancaster University, Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4YW, UK

Abstract. 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.

Jennifer F. Arthur et al.

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Short summary
Surface meltwater lakes can flex and fracture ice shelves, potentially leading to ice shelf break-up. A long-term record of lake evolution on Shackleton Ice Shelf is produced using optical satellite imagery and compared to surface air temperature and modelled surface melt. The results reveal that lake clustering on the ice shelf is linked to melt-enhancing feedbacks. Peaks in total lake area and volume closely correspond with intense snowmelt events rather than warmer seasonal temperatures.
Surface meltwater lakes can flex and fracture ice shelves, potentially leading to ice shelf...
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