This study provides a detailed structural glaciological analysis of changes in surface structures on the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula prior to its collapse in February–March 2002. Mapped features include the ice-shelf front, rifts, crevasses, longitudinal linear surface structures and meltwater features. We define domains on the ice shelf related to glacier source areas and demonstrate that, prior to collapse, the central Larsen B ice shelf consisted of four sutured flow units fed by Crane, Jorum, Punchbowl and Hektoria/Green/Evans glaciers. Between these flow units were ‘suture zones’ of thinner ice where the feeder glaciers merged. Prior to collapse, large open-rift systems were present offshore of Foyn Point and Cape Disappointment. These rifts became more pronounced in the years preceding break-up, and ice blocks in the rifts rotated because of the strong lateral shear in this zone. Velocity mapping of the suture zones indicates that the major rifts were not present more than about 20 years ago. We suggest that the ice shelf was preconditioned to collapse by partial rupturing of the sutures between flow units. This, we believe, was the result of ice-shelf front retreat during 1998–2000, reducing the lateral resistive stress on the upstream parts of the shelf and glacier flow units, ice-shelf thinning and pre-shelf-break-up glacier acceleration.