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Mass balance of East Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves from satellite data

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The velocity and mass discharge of nine major East Antarctic glaciers not draining into the Ross or Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelves is investigated using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data from the European Remote-sensing Satellite 1 and 2 (ERS-1/2) and RADARSAT-1.The glaciers are: David, Ninnis, Mertz, Totten, Scott, Denman, Lambert, Shirase and Stancomb-Wills. InSAR is used to locate their grounding line with precision. Ice velocity is measured with either InSAR or a speckle-tracking technique. Ice thickness is deduced from prior-determined ice-shelf elevation assuming hydrostatic equilibrium. Mass fluxes are calculated both at the grounding line and at a flux gate located downstream. The grounding-line flux is compared to a mass input calculated from snow accumulation to deduce the glacier mass balance. The calculation is repeated at the flux gate downstream of the grounding line to estimate the average bottom melt rate of the ice shelf under steady-state conditions. The main results are: (1) Grounding lines are found several tens of km upstream of prior-identified positions, not because of a recent ice-sheet retreat but because of the inadequacy of prior-determined grounding-line positions. (2) No gross imbalance between outflow and inflow is detected on the nine glaciers being investigated, with an uncertainty of 10-20%. Prior-determined, largely positive mass imbalances were due to an incorrect localization of the grounding line. (3) High rates of bottom melting (24 ± 7 m ice a-1) are inferred near grounding zones, where ice reaches the deepest draft. A few glaciers exhibit lower bottom melt rates (4 ± 7 m ice a-1). Bottom melting, however, appears to be a major source of mass loss on Antarctic ice shelves.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2002

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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