Recent changes in drainage route and outburst magnitude of the Russell Glacier ice-dammed lake, West Greenland

Mads Dømgaard, Kristian K. Kjeldsen, Flora Huiban, Jonathan L. Carrivick, Shfaqat A. Khan, Anders A. Bjørk

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftArtikelForskningpeer review

2 Citationer (Scopus)


Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) or jökulhlaups from ice-dammed lakes are frequent in Greenland and can influence local ice dynamics and bedrock motion, cause geomorphological changes, and pose flooding hazards. Multidecadal time series of lake drainage dates, volumes, and flood outlets are extremely rare. However, they are essential for determining the scale and frequency of future GLOFs, for identifying drainage mechanisms, and for mitigating downstream flood effects. In this study, we use high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) and orthophotos (0.1×0.1m) generated from uncrewed-aerial-vehicle (UAV) field surveys, in combination with optical satellite imagery. This allows us to reconstruct robust lake volume changes associated with 14 GLOFs between 2007 and 2021 at Russell Glacier, West Greenland. As a result, this is one of the most comprehensive and longest records of ice-dammed lake drainages in Greenland to date. Importantly, we find a mean difference of ∼10% between our lake drainage volumes when compared with estimates derived from a gauged hydrograph 27km downstream. Due to thinning of the local ice dam, the potential maximum drainage volume in 2021 is ∼60% smaller than that estimated to have drained in 2007. Our time series also reveals variations in the drainage dates ranging from late May to mid-September and drainage volumes ranging between 0.9 and 37.7Mm3. We attribute these fluctuations between short periods of relatively high and low drainage volumes to a weakening of the ice dam and an incomplete sealing of the englacial tunnel following the large GLOFs. This syphoning drainage mechanism is triggered by a reduction in englacial meltwater, likely driven by late-season drainage and sudden air temperature reductions, as well as annual variations in the glacial drainage system. Furthermore, we provide geomorphological evidence of an additional drainage route first observed following the 2021 GLOF, with a subglacial or englacial flow pathway, as well as supraglacial water flow across the ice margin. It seems probable that the new drainage route will become dominant in the future. This will drive changes in the downstream geomorphology and raise the risk of flooding-related hazards as the existing buffering outlet lakes will be bypassed.

Sider (fra-til)1373-1387
Antal sider15
Udgave nummer3
StatusUdgivet - 31 mar. 2023


  • Programområde 5: Natur og klima


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