The complex basal morphology and ice dynamics of the Nansen Ice Shelf, East Antarctica

Dow, Christine F.; Mueller, Derek; Wray, Peter; Friedrichs, Drew; Forrest, Alexander L.; McInerney, Jasmin B.; Greenbaum, Jamin; Blankenship, Donald D.; Lee, Choon Ki; Lee, Won Sang

Ice shelf dynamics and morphology play an important role in the stability of floating bodies of ice by driving fracturing that can lead to calving, in turn impacting the ability of the ice shelf to buttress upstream grounded ice. Following a 2016 calving event at the Nansen Ice Shelf (NIS), East Antarctica, we collected airborne and ground-based radar data to map ice thickness across the shelf. We combine these data with published satellite-derived data to examine the spatial variations in ice shelf draft, the cause and effects of ice shelf strain rates, and the possibility that a suture zone may be channelizing ocean water and altering patterns of sub-ice-shelf melt and freeze-on. We also use our datasets to assess limitations that may arise from relying on hydrostatic-balance equations applied to ice surface elevation to determine ice draft morphology. We find that the Nansen Ice Shelf has a highly variable basal morphology driven primarily by the formation of basal fractures near the onset of the ice shelf suture zone. This morphology is reflected in the ice shelf strain rates but not in the calculated hydrostatic-balance thickness, which underestimates the scale of variability at the ice shelf base. Enhanced melt rates near the ice shelf terminus and in steep regions of the channelized suture zone, along with relatively thin ice in the suture zone, appear to represent vulnerable areas in the NIS. This morphology, combined with ice dynamics, induce strain that has led to the formation of transverse fractures within the suture zone, resulting in large-scale calving events. Similar transverse fractures at other Antarctic ice shelves may also be driven by highly variable morphology, and predicting their formation and evolution could aid projections of ice shelf stability.



Dow, Christine F. / Mueller, Derek / Wray, Peter / et al: The complex basal morphology and ice dynamics of the Nansen Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. 2024. Copernicus Publications.


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