Centuries of intense surface melt on Larsen C Ice Shelf
Abstract. Following a southward progression of ice-shelf disintegration along the Antarctic Peninsula (AP), Larsen C Ice Shelf (LCIS) has become the focus of ongoing investigation regarding its future stability. The ice shelf experiences surface melt and commonly features surface meltwater ponds. Here, we use a flow-line model and a firn density model (FDM) to date and interpret observations of melt-affected ice layers found within five 90 m boreholes distributed across the ice shelf. We find that units of ice within the boreholes, which have densities exceeding those expected under normal dry compaction metamorphism, correspond to two climatic warm periods within the last 300 years on the Antarctic Peninsula. The more recent warm period, from the 1960s onwards, has generated distinct sections of dense ice measured in two boreholes in Cabinet Inlet, which is close to the Antarctic Peninsula mountains – a region affected by föhn winds. Previous work has classified these layers as refrozen pond ice, requiring large quantities of mobile liquid water to form. Our flow-line model shows that, whilst preconditioning of the snow began in the late 1960s, it was probably not until the early 1990s that the modern period of ponding began. The earlier warm period occurred during the 18th century and resulted in two additional sections of anomalously dense ice deep within the boreholes. The first, at 61 m in one of our Cabinet Inlet boreholes, consists of ice characteristic of refrozen ponds and must have formed in an area currently featuring ponding. The second, at 69 m in a mid-shelf borehole, formed at the same time on the edge of the pond area. Further south, the boreholes sample ice that is of an equivalent age but which does not exhibit the same degree of melt influence. This west–east and north–south gradient in the past melt distribution resembles current spatial patterns of surface melt intensity.