EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Evolution of supraglacial lakes on the Larsen B ice shelf in the decades before it collapsed

Amber Leeson1, Elliott Foster1, Amiee Rice1, Noel Gourmelen2, and Melchior van Wessem3
Amber Leeson et al.
  • 1Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (
  • 2School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, EH9 3FE
  • 3Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU), University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

The Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in 2002 losing an area twice the size of Greater London to the sea (3000 km2), in an event associated with widespread supraglacial lake drainage. Here, we use optical and radar satellite imagery to investigate the evolution of the ice shelf’s lakes in the decades preceding collapse. We find 1) that lakes spread southwards in the preceding decades at a rate commensurate with meltwater saturation of the shelf surface, 2) no trend in lake size, suggesting an active supraglacial drainage network which evacuated excess water off the shelf and 3) lakes mostly re-freeze in winter but the few lakes that do drain are associated with ice break up 2-4 years later. Given the relative scale of lake drainage and shelf break up, however, it is not clear from our data whether lake drainage is more likely a cause, or an effect, of ice shelf collapse.

How to cite: Leeson, A., Foster, E., Rice, A., Gourmelen, N., and van Wessem, M.: Evolution of supraglacial lakes on the Larsen B ice shelf in the decades before it collapsed, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-2441,, 2020

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