Articles | Volume 8, issue 6
The Cryosphere, 8, 2135–2145, 2014
The Cryosphere, 8, 2135–2145, 2014

Research article 24 Nov 2014

Research article | 24 Nov 2014

Detailed ice loss pattern in the northern Antarctic Peninsula: widespread decline driven by ice front retreats

T. A. Scambos1, E. Berthier2, T. Haran1, C. A. Shuman3, A. J. Cook4, S. R. M. Ligtenberg5, and J. Bohlander1 T. A. Scambos et al.
  • 1National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
  • 2Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (LEGOS CNRS), Université de Toulouse, Toulouse 31400, France
  • 3University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Joint Center for Earth Technology (UMBC JCET), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
  • 4Department of Geography, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
  • 5Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU), Utrecht 3508 TA, the Netherlands

Abstract. The northern Antarctic Peninsula (nAP, < 66° S) is one of the most rapidly changing glaciated regions on earth, yet the spatial patterns of its ice mass loss at the glacier basin scale have to date been poorly documented. We use satellite laser altimetry and satellite stereo-image topography spanning 2001–2010, but primarily 2003–2008, to map ice elevation change and infer mass changes for 33 glacier basins covering the mainland and most large islands in the nAP. Rates of ice volume and ice mass change are 27.7± 8.6 km3 a−1 and 24.9± 7.8 Gt a−1, equal to −0.73 m a−1 w.e. for the study area. Mass loss is the highest for eastern glaciers affected by major ice shelf collapses in 1995 and 2002, where twelve glaciers account for 60% of the total imbalance. However, losses at smaller rates occur throughout the nAP, at both high and low elevation, despite increased snow accumulation along the western coast and ridge crest. We interpret the widespread mass loss to be driven by decades of ice front retreats on both sides of the nAP, and extended throughout the ice sheet due to the propagation of kinematic waves triggered at the fronts into the interior.

Short summary
This study of one of the most rapidly changing glacier regions on earth -- the Antarctic Peninsula -- uses two types of satellite data to measure the rates of ice loss in detail for the individual glaciers. The satellite data is laser altimetry from ICESat and stereo image DEM differences. The results show that 24..9 ± 7.8 billion tons of ice are lost from the region north of 66°S on the peninsula each year. The majority of the data cover 2003-2008.