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Variability of basal melt beneath the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, West Antarctica

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Abstract:

Observations from satellite and airborne platforms are combined with model calculations to infer the nature and efficiency of basal melting of the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, West Antarctica, by ocean waters. Satellite imagery shows surface features that suggest ice-shelf-wide changes to the ocean's influence on the ice shelf as the grounding line retreated. Longitudinal profiles of ice surface and bottom elevations are analyzed to reveal a spatially dependent pattern of basal melt with an annual melt flux of 40.5 Gt a−1. One profile captures a persistent set of surface waves that correlates with quasi-annual variations of atmospheric forcing of Amundsen Sea circulation patterns, establishing a direct connection between atmospheric variability and sub-ice-shelf melting. Ice surface troughs are hydrostatically compensated by ice-bottom voids up to 150 m deep. Voids form dynamically at the grounding line, triggered by enhanced melting when warmer-than-average water arrives. Subsequent enlargement of the voids is thermally inefficient (4% or less) compared with an overall melting efficiency beneath the ice shelf of 22%. Residual warm water is believed to cause three persistent polynyas at the ice-shelf front seen in Landsat imagery. Landsat thermal imagery confirms the occurrence of warm water at the same locations.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/002214311797409802

Publication date: September 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • 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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