Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
09 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 09 Nov 2016

Dynamic influence of pinning points on marine ice-sheet stability: a numerical study in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica

Lionel Favier, Frank Pattyn, Sophie Berger, and Reinhard Drews

Abstract. The East Antarctic ice sheet is likely more stable than its West Antarctic counterpart because its bed is largely lying above sea level. However, the ice sheet in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica, contains marine sectors that are in contact with the ocean through overdeepened marine basins interspersed by grounded ice promontories and ice rises, pinning and stabilising the ice shelves. In this paper, we use the ice-sheet model BISICLES to investigate the effect of sub-ice-shelf melting, using a series of scenarios compliant with current values, on the ice-dynamic stability of the outlet glaciers between the Lazarev and Roi Baudouin ice shelves over the next millennium. Overall, the sub-ice-shelf melting substantially impacts the sea-level contribution. Locally, we predict a short-term rapid grounding-line retreat of the overdeepened outlet glacier Hansenbreen, which further induces the transition of the bordering ice promontories into ice rises. Furthermore, our analysis demonstrated that the onset of the marine ice-sheet retreat and subsequent promontory transition into ice rise is controlled by small pinning points, mostly uncharted in pan-Antarctic datasets. Pinning points have a twofold impact on marine ice sheets. They decrease the ice discharge by buttressing effect, and they play a crucial role in initialising marine ice sheets through data assimilation, leading to errors in ice-shelf rheology when omitted. Our results show that unpinning increases the sea-level rise by 10 %, while omitting the same pinning point in data assimilation decreases it by 10 %, but the more striking effect is in the promontory transition time, advanced by two centuries for unpinning and delayed by almost half a millennium when the pinning point is missing in data assimilation. Pinning points exert a subtle influence on ice dynamics at the kilometre scale, which calls for a better knowledge of the Antarctic margins.

Short summary
We demonstrate the short-term unstable retreat of an East Antarctic outlet glacier triggered by imposed sub-ice-shelf melt, compliant with current values, using a state-of-the-art ice-sheet model. We show that pinning points – topographic highs in contact with the ice-shelf base – have a major impact on ice-sheet stability and timing of grounding-line retreat. The study therefore calls for improving our knowledge of sub-ice-shelf bathymetry in order to reduce uncertainties in future ice loss.