Sensitivity of ocean circulation and sea-ice conditions to loss of West Antarctic ice shelves and ice sheet

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We use a global coupled ocean–sea ice model to test the hypothesis that the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS), or just its ice shelves, may modify ocean circulation and sea-ice conditions in the Southern Ocean. We compare the results of three model runs: (1) a control run with a standard (modern) configuration of landmask in West Antarctica, (2) a no-shelves run with West Antarctic ice shelves removed and (3) a no-WAIS run. In the latter two runs, up to a few million square kilometres of new sea surface area opens to sea-ice formation, causing the volume and extent of Antarctic sea-ice cover to increase compared with the control run. In general, near-surface waters are cooler around Antarctica in the no-shelves and no-WAIS model runs than in the control run, while warm intermediate and deep waters penetrate further south, increasing poleward heat transport. Varying regional responses to the imposed changes in landmask configuration are determined by the fact that Antarctic polynyas and fast ice develop in different parts of the model domain in each run. Model results suggest that changes in the extent of WAIS may modify oceanographic conditions in the Southern Ocean.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2007

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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