Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
20 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 20 Feb 2018

Changes in glacier dynamics in the northern Antarctic Peninsula since 1985

Thorsten Seehaus, Alison J. Cook, Aline B. Silva, and Matthias Braun

Abstract. The climatic conditions along the northern Antarctic Peninsula have shown significant changes within the last 50 years. Here we present a comprehensive analysis of temporally and spatially detailed observations of the changes in ice dynamics along both the east and west coastlines of the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Temporal evolutions of glacier area (1985–2015) and ice surface velocity (1992–2014) are derived from a broad multi-mission remote sensing database for 74 glacier basins on the northern Antarctic Peninsula ( <  65° S along the west coast and north of the Seal Nunataks on the east coast). A recession of the glaciers by 238.81 km2 is found for the period 1985–2015, of which the glaciers affected by ice shelf disintegration showed the largest retreat by 208.59 km2. Glaciers on the east coast north of the former Prince Gustav Ice Shelf extent in 1986 receded by only 21.07 km2 (1985–2015) and decelerated by about 58 % on average (1992–2014). A dramatic acceleration after ice shelf disintegration with a subsequent deceleration is observed at most former ice shelf tributaries on the east coast, combined with a significant frontal retreat. In 2014, the flow speed of the former ice shelf tributaries was 26 % higher than before 1996. Along the west coast the average flow speeds of the glaciers increased by 41 %. However, the glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula revealed a strong spatial variability of the changes in ice dynamics. By applying a hierarchical cluster analysis, we show that this is associated with the geometric parameters of the individual glacier basins (hypsometric indexes, maximum surface elevation of the basin, flux gate to catchment size ratio). The heterogeneous spatial pattern of ice dynamic evolutions at the northern Antarctic Peninsula shows that temporally and spatially detailed observations as well as further monitoring are necessary to fully understand glacier change in regions with such strong topographic and climatic variances.

Short summary
The ice sheet of northern Antarctic Peninsula has been significantly affected by climate change within the last century. A temporally and spatially detailed study on the evolution of glacier retreat and flow speeds of 74 basins is provided. Since 1985 a total frontal retreat of 238 km2 and since 1992 regional mean changes in ice flow by up to 58 % are observed. The trends in ice dynamics are correlated with geometric parameters of the glacier catchments and regional climatic settings.