Glacier change along West Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land Sector and links to inter-decadal atmosphere–ocean variability

Over the past 20 years satellite remote sensing has captured significant downwasting of glaciers that drain the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the ocean, particularly across the Amundsen Sea Sector. Along the neighbouring Marie Byrd Land Sector, situated west of Thwaites Glacier to Ross Ice Shelf, glaciological change has been only sparsely monitored. Here, we use optical satellite imagery to track grounding-line migration along the Marie Byrd Land Sector between 2003 and 2015, and compare observed changes with ICESat and CryoSat-2-derived surface elevation and thickness change records. During the observational period, 33% of the grounding line underwent retreat, with no significant advance recorded over the remainder of the  ∼ 2200km long coastline. The greatest retreat rates were observed along the 650km-long Getz Ice Shelf, further west of which only minor retreat occurred. The relative glaciological stability west of Getz Ice Shelf can be attributed to a divergence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current from the continental-shelf break at 135°W, coincident with a transition in the morphology of the continental shelf. Along Getz Ice Shelf, grounding-line retreat reduced by 68% during the CryoSat-2 era relative to earlier observations. Climate reanalysis data imply that wind-driven upwelling of Circumpolar Deep Water would have been reduced during this later period, suggesting that the observed slowdown was a response to reduced oceanic forcing. However, lack of comprehensive oceanographic and bathymetric information proximal to Getz Ice Shelf's grounding zone make it difficult to assess the role of intrinsic glacier dynamics, or more complex ice-sheet–ocean interactions, in moderating this slowdown. Collectively, our findings underscore the importance of spatial and inter-decadal variability in atmosphere and ocean interactions in moderating glaciological change around Antarctica.


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Authors: Christie, Frazer D.W., Bingham, Robert G., Gourmelen, Noel, Steig, Eric J., Bisset, Rosie R., Pritchard, Hamish D. ORCIDORCID record for Hamish D. Pritchard, Snow, Kate, Tett, Simon F.B.

On this site: Hamish Pritchard
26 July, 2018
The Cryosphere / 12
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