Supraglacial lake drainage at a fast-flowing Greenlandic outlet glacier

Thomas R. Chudley, Poul Christoffersen, Samuel H. Doyle, Marion Bougamont, Charlotte M. Schoonman, Bryn Hubbard, Mike R. James

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Supraglacial lake drainage events influence Greenland Ice Sheet dynamics on hourly to interannual timescales. However, direct observations are rare, and, to date, no in situ studies exist from fast-flowing sectors of the ice sheet. Here, we present observations of a rapid lake drainage event at Store Glacier, west Greenland, in 2018. The drainage event transported 4.8 × 106 m3 of meltwater to the glacier bed in ∼5 h, reducing the lake to a third of its original volume. During drainage, the local ice surface rose by 0.55 m, and surface velocity increased from 2.0 m⋅d−1 to 5.3 m⋅d−1. Dynamic responses were greatest ∼4 km downstream from the lake, which we interpret as an area of transient water storage constrained by basal topography. Drainage initiated, without any precursory trigger, when the lake expanded and reactivated a preexisting fracture that had been responsible for a drainage event 1 y earlier. Since formation, this fracture had advected ∼500 m from the lake’s deepest point, meaning the lake did not fully drain. Partial drainage events have previously been assumed to occur slowly via lake overtopping, with a comparatively small dynamic influence. In contrast, our findings show that partial drainage events can be caused by hydrofracture, producing new hydrological connections that continue to concentrate the supply of surface meltwater to the bed of the ice sheet throughout the melt season. Our findings therefore indicate that the quantity and resultant dynamic influence of rapid lake drainages are likely being underestimated
Original languageEnglish
Article number201913685
Pages (from-to)25468-25477
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
Early online date02 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2019


  • Greenland
  • glaciology
  • ice sheets
  • lakes
  • hydrology
  • Glaciology
  • Hydrology
  • Ice sheets
  • Lakes


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