Ice-marginal lakes associated with enhanced recession of the Greenland Ice Sheet

J. Mallalieu*, J.L. Carrivick, D.J. Quincey, C.L. Raby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There has been a progressive increase in the number and area of ice-marginal lakes situated along the south-western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) since the 1980s. The increased prevalence of ice-marginal lakes is notable because of their capacity to enhance mass loss and ice-margin recession through a number of thermo-mechanical controls. Although such effects have been extensively documented at alpine glaciers, an understanding of how ice-marginal lakes impact the dynamics of the GrIS has been limited by a sparsity of observational records. This study employs the Landsat archive to conduct a multi-decadal, regional-scale statistical analysis of ice-margin advance and recession along a ~ 5000 km length of the south-western margin of the GrIS, incorporating its terrestrial, lacustrine and marine ice-margins. We reveal an extended and accelerating phase of ice-margin recession in south-west Greenland from 1992 onwards, irrespective of margin type, but also observe considerable heterogeneity in the behaviour of the different ice-marginal environments. Marine ice-margins exhibited the greatest magnitude and variability in ice-margin change, however lacustrine termini were notable for a progressive increase in ice-margin recession rates from 1987 to 2015, which increasingly outpaced those measured at terrestrial ice-margins. Furthermore, significant correlations were identified between lake parameters and rates of lacustrine ice-margin recession, including lake area, latitude, altitude and the length of the lake – ice-margin interface. These results suggest that ice-marginal lakes have become increasingly important drivers of ice-margin recession and thus mass loss at the GrIS, however further research is needed to better parameterise the causal connections between ice-marginal lake evolution and enhanced ice-margin recession. More widely, a detailed understanding of the impacts of ice-marginal lakes on ice-margin dynamics across Greenland is increasingly necessary to accurately forecast the response of the ice sheet to enhanced ice-marginal lake prevalence and thus refine projections of recession, mass loss and sea level rise.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103503
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date8 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Ice-marginal lake
  • Proglacial lake
  • Glacier dynamics
  • Meltwater


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