Fast draining lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet



[1] The rapid drainage of supraglacial lakes around the ablation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet forms an important link between water at the surface and the ice sheet base, allowing surface meltwater to reach the bed and hence increase glacial velocity. The conduits formed by lake drainages may remain open during the remainder of the melt season providing a pathway for further meltwater to reach the base. We investigated the drainage behavior of lakes from all regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet for the period 2005–2009. We mapped the evolution of 2600 lakes from 3704 MODIS images detecting a mean of 263 drainage events per year, of which 61% occurred in the south-west region. Only 1% of lake drainages occurred in the rapidly thinning south-east region. Our results show marked differences between the hydrology of the different regions of the ice sheet, with few lake drainages occurring in the regions where the highest dynamic mass loss is occurring. In the south-west and north-east, lake drainages are common and could impact glacier dynamics; in the south-east they are rare and are thus unlikely to do so.