Articles | Volume 4, issue 1
02 Feb 2010
 | 02 Feb 2010

Overview of areal changes of the ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50 years

A. J. Cook and D. G. Vaughan

Abstract. In recent decades, seven out of twelve ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) have either retreated significantly or have been almost entirely lost. At least some of these retreats have been shown to be unusual within the context of the Holocene and have been widely attributed to recent atmospheric and oceanic changes. To date, measurements of the area of ice shelves on the AP have either been approximated, or calculated for individual shelves over dissimilar time intervals. Here we present a new dataset containing up-to-date and consistent area calculations for each of the twelve ice shelves on the AP over the past five decades. The results reveal an overall reduction in total ice-shelf area by over 28 000 km2 since the beginning of the period. Individual ice shelves show different rates of retreat, ranging from slow but progressive retreat to abrupt collapse. We discuss the pertinent features of each ice shelf and also broad spatial and temporal patterns in the timing and rate of retreat. We believe that an understanding of this diversity and what it implies about the underlying dynamics and control will provide the best foundation for developing a reliable predictive skill for ice-shelf change.