Toward Monitoring Surface and Subsurface Lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet Using Sentinel-1 SAR and Landsat-8 OLI Imagery

Katie E. Miles, Ian C. Willis, Corinne L. Benedek, Andrew G. Williamson, Marco Tedesco

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Supraglacial lakes are an important component of the Greenland Ice Sheet’s mass balance and hydrology, with their drainage affecting ice dynamics. This study uses imagery from the recently launched Sentinel-1A Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite to investigate supraglacial lakes in West Greenland. A semi-automated algorithm is developed to detect surface lakes from Sentinel-1 images during the 2015 summer. A combined Landsat-8 and Sentinel-1 dataset, which has a comparable temporal resolution to MODIS (3 days vs. daily) but a higher spatial resolution (25-40 vs. 250-500 m), is then used together with a fully automated lake drainage detection algorithm. Rapid (<4 days) and slow (>4 days) drainages are investigated for both small (<0.125 km 2, the minimum size detectable by MODIS) and large (≥0.125 km 2) lakes through the summer. Drainage events of small lakes occur at lower elevations (mean 159m), and slightly earlier (mean 4.5 days) in the melt season than those of large lakes. The analysis is extended manually into the early winter to calculate the dates and elevations of lake freeze-through more precisely than is possible with optical imagery (mean 30 August; 1,270m mean elevation). Finally, the Sentinel-1 imagery is used to detect subsurface lakes and, for the first time, their dates of appearance and freeze-through (mean 9 August and 7 October, respectively). These subsurface lakes occur at higher elevations than the surface lakes detected in this study (mean 1,593 and 1,185 m, respectively). Sentinel-1 imagery therefore provides great potential for tracking melting, water movement and freezing within both the firn zone and ablation area of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number58
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2017


  • Drainage
  • Greenland
  • Hydrology
  • Landsat-8
  • Satellite remote sensing
  • Sentinel-1
  • Supraglacial lakes


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