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Surface melting and melt features on the Amery Ice Shelf - implications for ice shelf, ice sheet stability

Surface melting and melt features on the Amery Ice Shelf - implications for ice shelf, ice sheet stability
Stefan W. Vogel

Authors

Stefan W. Vogel
Australian Antarctic Division, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, TAS, 7050, Australia
Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem CRC, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

Alex D. Fraser
Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem CRC, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

Petra Heil
Australian Antarctic Division, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, TAS, 7050, Australia
Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem CRC, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, 7000, Australia

Abstract

A general notion about Antarctica is that it is dry and cold. Yet along its coast line significant melting is observed each summer. In various places melt water has been responsible for changes in the dynamic of glaciers, ice sheet and ice shelves. One spectacular event was the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. Here melt water ponding had a destabilising effect on the ice shelf. Melt water draining through an ice sheet can enhance lubrication of the glacier bed leading to flow acceleration and enhanced ice discharge. Freshwater input to the sub ice shelf environment may enhance thermohaline circulation with the potential of enhancing the draw of warmer water masses into the sub ice shelf cavity.

Here we present initial results investigating surface melting and surface melt-distribution on the Lambert Graben- Amery Ice Shelf. Clearly visible from space, each year a network of lakes and rivers forms on the surface of the Amery Ice Shelf south of Jetty Peninsula (~ 70.5 °S). Surface melt features are absent in the front half of the Amery Ice Shelf likely due to high snow accumulation.

Microwave imagery as well as snow temperature data indicate melting with melt water percolation into and refreezing inside the snow cover. Closer examination of satellite imagery shows an extensive surface hydrological network covering the back of the Amery Ice Shelf transporting melt water over large distances. During high melt years supra glacial lakes can reach tens of kilometres in length and >1 kilometre in width. The most southern surface lake is found adjacent to the Cumpston Massif on the Mellor Glacier (73.5 °S). This is a significant distance upstream from the ice shelf grounding zone and raises the possibility that surface melting under 21st climate warming scenarios could enhance lubrication of East Antarctic outlet glaciers.

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  • 11th June 2013
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This page was last modified on 23 September 2013.