Supraglacial meltwater lakes trigger ice-shelf break-up and modulate seasonal ice-sheet flow, and are thus agents by which warming is transmitted to the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. To characterize supraglacial lake variability we perform a comparative analysis of lake geometry and depth in two distinct regions, one on the pre-collapse (2002) Larsen B ice shelf, Antarctica, and the other in the ablation zone of Paakitsoq, a land-terminating region of the Greenland ice sheet. Compared to Paakitsoq, lakes on the Larsen B ice shelf cover a greater proportion of surface area (5.3% cf. 1%), but are shallower and more uniform in area. Other aspects of lake geometry (e.g. eccentricity, degree of convexity (solidity) and orientation) are relatively similar between the two regions. We attribute the notable difference in lake density and depth between ice-shelf and grounded ice to the fact that ice shelves have flatter surfaces and less distinct drainage basins. Ice shelves also possess more stimuli to small-scale, localized surface elevation variability, due to the various structural features that yield small variations in thickness and which float at different levels by Archimedes’ principle.