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Title: Remote sensing of rapidly draining supraglacial lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet
Author: Williamson, Andrew Graham
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 6228
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Supraglacial lakes in the ablation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) often drain rapidly (in hours to days) by hydraulically-driven fracture (“hydrofracture”) in the summer. Hydrofracture can deliver large meltwater volumes to the ice-bed interface and open-up surface-to-bed connections, thereby routing surface meltwater to the subglacial system, altering basal water pressures and, consequently, the velocity profile of the GrIS. The study of rapidly draining lakes is thus important for developing coupled hydrology and ice-dynamics models, which can help predict the GrIS’s future mass balance. Remote sensing is commonly used to identify the location, timing and magnitude of rapid lake-drainage events for different regions of the GrIS and, with the increased availability of high-quality satellite data, may be able to offer additional insights into the GrIS’s surface hydrology. This study uses new remote-sensing datasets and develops novel analytical techniques to produce improved knowledge of rapidly draining lake behaviour in west Greenland over recent years. While many studies use 250 m MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) imagery to monitor intra- and inter-annual changes to lakes on the GrIS, no existing research with MODIS calculates changes to individual and total lake volume using a physically-based method. The first aim of this research is to overcome this shortfall by developing a fully-automated lake area and volume tracking method (“the FAST algorithm”). For this, various methods for automatically calculating lake areas and volumes with MODIS are tested, and the best techniques are incorporated into the FAST algorithm. The FAST algorithm is applied to the land-terminating Paakitsoq and marine-terminating Store Glacier regions of west Greenland to investigate the incidence of rapid lake drainage in summer 2014. The validation and application of the FAST algorithm show that lake areas and volumes (using a physically-based method) can be calculated accurately using MODIS, that the new algorithm can identify rapidly draining lakes reliably, and that it therefore has the potential to be used widely across the GrIS to generate novel insights into rapidly draining lakes. The controls on rapid lake drainage remain unclear, making it difficult to incorporate lake drainage into models of GrIS hydrology. The second aspect of this study therefore investigates whether various hydrological, morphological, glaciological and surface-mass-balance controls can explain the incidence of rapid lake drainage on the GrIS. These potential controlling factors are examined within an Exploratory Data Analysis statistical technique to elicit statistical similarities and differences between the rapidly and non-rapidly draining lake types. The results show that the lake types are statistically indistinguishable for almost all factors, except lake area. It is impossible, therefore, to elicit an empirically-supported, deterministic method for predicting hydrofracture in models of GrIS hydrology. A frequent problem in remote sensing is the need to trade-off high spatial resolution for low temporal resolution, or vice versa. The final element of this thesis overcomes this problem in the context of monitoring lakes on the GrIS by adapting the FAST algorithm (to become “the FASTER algorithm”) to use with a combined Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2 satellite dataset. The FASTER algorithm is applied to a large, predominantly land-terminating region of west Greenland in summers 2016 and 2017 to track changes to lakes, identify rapidly draining lakes, and ascertain the extra quantity of information that can be generated by using the two satellites simultaneously rather than individually. The FASTER algorithm can monitor changes to lakes at both high spatial (10 to 30 m) and temporal (~3 days) resolution, overcoming the limitation of low spatial or temporal resolution associated with previous remote sensing of lakes on the GrIS. The combined dataset identifies many additional rapid lake-drainage events than would be possible with Landsat 8 or Sentinel-2 alone, due to their low temporal resolutions, or with MODIS, due to its inferior spatial resolution.
Supervisor: Arnold, Neil ; Willis, Ian ; Banwell, Alison Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: glaciology ; ice-sheet hydrology ; ice sheet ; Greenland Ice Sheet ; Greenland ; rapid lake drainage ; remote sensing ; hydrofracture ; supraglacial hydrology ; hydrology ; MODIS ; Landsat 8 ; Sentinel-2 ; FAST algorithm ; FASTER algorithm ; Paakitsoq ; Store Glacier ; West Greenland ; Exploratory Data Analysis