Environmental drivers of circum-Antarctic glacier and ice shelf front retreat over the last two decades

Baumhoer, Celia A.; Dietz, Andreas J.; Kneisel, Christof; Paeth, Heiko; Kuenzer, Claudia

The safety band of Antarctica, consisting of floating glacier tongues and ice shelves, buttresses ice discharge of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recent disintegration events of ice shelves along with glacier retreat indicate a weakening of this important safety band. Predicting calving front retreat is a real challenge due to complex ice dynamics in a data-scarce environment that are unique for each ice shelf and glacier. We explore the extent to which easy-to-access remote sensing and modeling data can help to define environmental conditions leading to calving front retreat. For the first time, we present a circum-Antarctic record of glacier and ice shelf front change over the last two decades in combination with environmental variables such as air temperature, sea ice days, snowmelt, sea surface temperature, and wind direction. We find that the Antarctic Ice Sheet area decreased by inline-formula−29 618 inline-formula± 1193 kminline-formula2 in extent between 1997–2008 and gained an area of 7108 inline-formula± 1029 kminline-formula2 between 2009 and 2018. Retreat concentrated along the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica including the biggest ice shelves (Ross and Ronne). In several cases, glacier and ice shelf retreat occurred in conjunction with one or several changes in environmental variables. Decreasing sea ice days, intense snowmelt, weakening easterlies, and relative changes in sea surface temperature were identified as enabling factors for retreat. In contrast, relative increases in mean air temperature did not correlate with calving front retreat. For future studies a more appropriate measure for atmospheric forcing should be considered, including above-zero-degree days and temperature extreme events. To better understand drivers of glacier and ice shelf retreat, it is critical to analyze the magnitude of basal melt through the intrusion of warm Circumpolar Deep Water that is driven by strengthening westerlies and to further assess surface hydrology processes such as meltwater ponding, runoff, and lake drainage.

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Baumhoer, Celia A. / Dietz, Andreas J. / Kneisel, Christof / et al: Environmental drivers of circum-Antarctic glacier and ice shelf front retreat over the last two decades. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Celia A. Baumhoer et al.

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