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Widespread rifting and retreat of ice-shelf margins in the eastern Amundsen Sea Embayment between 1972 and 2011

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The major outlet glaciers that drain the eastern sector of the Amundsen Sea Embayment (Smith, Haynes, Thwaites and Pine Island) are among the largest, fastest-flowing and fastest-thinning glaciers in West Antarctica. Their recent ice-flow acceleration is linked to ocean-induced ice-shelf thinning, but may also arise from additional losses of ice-shelf buttressing that are not well understood. Here we present a comprehensive history of coastal change in the eastern Amundsen Sea Embayment between 1972 and 2011 derived mostly from Landsat imagery. The termini of all four major outlet glaciers have retreated, but retreat is most rapid along the ice-shelf margins, where progressive rifting has occurred. This pattern of retreat coincides with the recent acceleration of grounded ice and contributed to loss of ice-shelf buttressing. The observed pattern of margin-led gradual ice-shelf disintegration appears to be common in accelerating ocean-terminating outlet glaciers. We hypothesize that this pattern is part of a positive feedback between glacier acceleration and rift growth that could drive further buttressing loss in the eastern Amundsen Sea Embayment.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2012

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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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