Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-219
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-219

  19 Aug 2020

19 Aug 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal TC.

Atmospheric extremes triggered the biggest calving event in more than 50 years at the Amery Ice shelf in September 2019

Diana Francis1, Kyle S. Mattingly2, Stef Lhermitte3, Marouane Temimi1, and Petra Heil4 Diana Francis et al.
  • 1Khalifa University of Science and Technology, P. O. Box 54224, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • 2Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA
  • 3Department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Delft University of Technology, Mekelweg 5, 2628 CD Delft, the Netherlands
  • 4University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

Abstract. Ice shelf instability is one of the main sources of uncertainty in Antarctica's contribution to future sea level rise. Calving events play crucial role in ice shelf weakening but remain unpredictable and their governing processes are still poorly understood. In this study, we analyze the unexpected September 2019 calving event from the Amery Ice Shelf, the largest since 1963 and which occurred almost a decade earlier than expected, to better understand the role of the atmosphere in calving. We find that atmospheric extremes provided a deterministic role in this event. The calving was triggered by the occurrence of a series of anomalously-deep and stationary explosive twin polar cyclones over the Cooperation and Davis Seas which generated strong offshore winds leading to increased sea ice removal, fracture amplification along the pre-existing rift, and ultimately calving of the massive iceberg. The observed record-anomalous atmospheric conditions were promoted by blocking ridges and Antarctic-wide anomalous poleward transport of heat and moisture. Blocking highs helped in (i) directing moist and warm air masses towards the ice shelf and in (ii) maintaining stationary the observed extreme cyclones at the front of the ice shelf for several days. Accumulation of cold air over the ice sheet, due to the blocking highs, led to the formation of an intense cold-high pressure over the ice sheet, which helped fuel sustained anomalously-deep cyclones via increased baroclinicity. Our results stress the importance of atmospheric extremes in ice shelf instability and the need to be accounted for when considering Antarctic ice shelf variability and contribution to sea level, especially given that more of these extremes are predicted under a warmer climate.

Diana Francis et al.

 
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Diana Francis et al.

Diana Francis et al.

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Short summary
The unexpected September 2019 calving event from the Amery Ice Shelf, the largest since 1963 and which occurred almost a decade earlier than expected, was triggered by atmospheric extremes. Explosive twin polar cyclones provided a deterministic role in this event. The observed record-anomalous atmospheric conditions were promoted by blocking ridges and Antarctic-wide anomalous poleward transport of heat and moisture.