Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
15 May 2014
Research article |  | 15 May 2014

Bathymetric and oceanic controls on Abbot Ice Shelf thickness and stability

J. R. Cochran, S. S. Jacobs, K. J. Tinto, and R. E. Bell

Abstract. Ice shelves play key roles in stabilizing Antarctica's ice sheets, maintaining its high albedo and returning freshwater to the Southern Ocean. Improved data sets of ice shelf draft and underlying bathymetry are important for assessing ocean–ice interactions and modeling ice response to climate change. The long, narrow Abbot Ice Shelf south of Thurston Island produces a large volume of meltwater, but is close to being in overall mass balance. Here we invert NASA Operation IceBridge (OIB) airborne gravity data over the Abbot region to obtain sub-ice bathymetry, and combine OIB elevation and ice thickness measurements to estimate ice draft. A series of asymmetric fault-bounded basins formed during rifting of Zealandia from Antarctica underlie the Abbot Ice Shelf west of 94° W and the Cosgrove Ice Shelf to the south. Sub-ice water column depths along OIB flight lines are sufficiently deep to allow warm deep and thermocline waters observed near the western Abbot ice front to circulate through much of the ice shelf cavity. An average ice shelf draft of ~200 m, 15% less than the Bedmap2 compilation, coincides with the summer transition between the ocean surface mixed layer and upper thermocline. Thick ice streams feeding the Abbot cross relatively stable grounding lines and are rapidly thinned by the warmest inflow. While the ice shelf is presently in equilibrium, the overall correspondence between draft distribution and thermocline depth indicates sensitivity to changes in characteristics of the ocean surface and deep waters.