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Melting and ocean circulation at the front of the Ross Ice Shelf

Melting and ocean circulation at the front of the Ross Ice Shelf
Craig L. Stewart


Craig L. Stewart
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England

Michael J.M. Williams
NIWA, Private Bag 14901, Kilbirnie, Wellington New Zealand


Ice shelves form the floating fringe of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and provide an opportunity for the underlying ocean to act on the ice shelf. Despite the importance of these processes very few observations of oceanographic conditions have been made beneath ice shelves due to the extreme difficulty of accessing the cavities.

In November 2010 the first long term oceanographic mooring was deployed through a hot-water borehole into the cavity beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. The mooring is located in the north-west sector of the ice shelf approximately 7km from the ice front. It is located over the deepest point of the cavity entrance (at 900m) and has an ice thickness of ~260m. The mooring was deployed with temperature/salinity loggers and acoustic current meters at 4 depths between the ice base and the seabed. An upward looking acoustic sounder configured to measure basal melting is mounted 15m below the ice base.

Here we present an analysis of the first two years of mooring data with an emphasis on describing the seasonal cycle and the processes which cause higher frequency variability. The mooring shows a clear influence of Antarctic Surface Water during each of the three summers. This penetrates to the mooring site only during summer and is associated with increased melt rates which peak during January. Melt rates at the mooring range from ~1-3m/a with an annual average of ~1.55m/a – approximately an order of magnitude greater than the estimated average for the entire ice shelf but in line with other estimates of near-frontal melting.

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This page was last modified on 23 September 2013.