Characteristics of surface “melt potential” over Antarctic ice shelves based on regional atmospheric model simulations of summer air temperature extremes from 1979/80 to 2018/19

We calculate a regional surface “melt potential” index (MPI) over Antarctic ice shelves that describes the frequency (MPI-freq, %) and intensity (MPI-int, K) of daily maximum summer temperatures exceeding a melt threshold of 273.15 K. This is used to determine which ice shelves are vulnerable to melt-induced hydrofracture and is calculated using near-surface temperature output for each summer from 1979/80 to 2018/19 from two high-resolution regional atmospheric model hindcasts (using the MetUM and HIRHAM5). MPI is highest for Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves (MPI-freq 23-35%, MPI-int 1.2-2.1 K), lowest (2-3%, < 0 K) for Ronne-Filchner and Ross ice shelves, and around 10-24% and 0.6-1.7 K for the other West and East Antarctic ice shelves. Hotspots of MPI are apparent over many ice shelves, and they also show a decreasing trend in MPI-freq. The regional circulation patterns associated with high MPI values over West and East Antarctic ice shelves are remarkably consistent for their respective region but tied to different large-scale climate forcings. The West Antarctic circulation resembles the central Pacific El Niño pattern with a stationary Rossby wave and a strong anticyclone over the high-latitude South Pacific. By contrast, the East Antarctic circulation comprises a zonally symmetric negative Southern Annular Mode pattern with a strong regional anticyclone on the plateau and enhanced coastal easterlies/weakened Southern Ocean westerlies. Values of MPI are 3-4 times larger for a lower temperature/melt threshold of 271.15 K used in a sensitivity test, as melting can occur at temperatures lower than 273.15 K depending on snowpack properties.


Publication status:
Authors: Orr, Andrew ORCIDORCID record for Andrew Orr, Deb, Pranab, Clem, Kyle R., Gilbert, Ella ORCIDORCID record for Ella Gilbert, Bromwich, David H., Boberg, Fredrik, Colwell, Steve, Hansen, Nicolaj, Lazzara, Matthew A., Mooney, Priscilla A., Mottram, Ruth, Niwano, Masashi, Phillips, Tony ORCIDORCID record for Tony Phillips, Pishniak, Denys, Reijmer, Carleen H., van de Berg, Willem Jan, Webster, Stuart, Zou, Xun

On this site: Andrew Orr, Ella Gilbert, Steve Colwell, Tony Phillips
15 May, 2023
Journal of Climate / 36
27pp / 3357-3383
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