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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  22 Oct 2020

22 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

32-year record-high surface melt in 2019/2020 on north George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula

Alison F. Banwell1,2, Rajashree Tri Datta3,4, Rebecca L. Dell2, Mahsa Moussavi5,1, Ludovic Brucker3,6, Ghislain Picard7, Christopher A. Shuman3,8, and Laura A. Stevens9,10 Alison F. Banwell et al.
  • 1Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 2Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • 3Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 4Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
  • 5National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), University of Colorado Boulder, CO 80309, USA
  • 6Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research Studies and Investigations, Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, MD, USA
  • 7Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Institut des Géosciences de l'Environnement (IGE), UMR 5001, 38041 Grenoble, France
  • 8Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 9Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  • 10Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA

Abstract. In the 2019/2020 austral summer, the surface melt duration and extent on the northern George VI Ice Shelf (GVIIS) was exceptional compared to the 31 previous summers of dramatically lower melt. This finding is based on analysis of near-continuous 41-year satellite microwave radiometer (and scatterometer) data, which are sensitive to meltwater on the ice-shelf surface and in the near-surface snow. Using optical satellite imagery from Landsat 8 (since 2013) and Sentinel-2 (since 2017), record volumes of surface meltwater ponding are also observed on north GVIIS in 2019/2020, with 23 % of the surface area covered by 0.62 km3 of meltwater on January 19. These exceptional melt and surface ponding conditions in 2019/2020 were driven by sustained air temperatures ≥ 0 °C for anomalously long periods (55–90 hours) from late November onwards, likely driven by warmer northwesterly and northeasterly low-speed winds. Increased surface ponding on ice shelves may threaten their stability through increased potential for hydrofracture initiation; a risk that may increase due to firn air content depletion in response to near-surface melting.

Alison F. Banwell et al.

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Alison F. Banwell et al.

Alison F. Banwell et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Ice shelves are thick floating layers of glacier ice extending from the glaciers on land that buttress much of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and help to protect it from losing ice to the ocean. However, the stability of ice shelves is vulnerable to meltwater lakes that form on their surfaces during the summer. This study focuses on the northern George VI Ice Shelf on the west side of the AP, which had an exceptionally long and extensive melt season in 2019/2020 compared to the previous 31 seasons.
Ice shelves are thick floating layers of glacier ice extending from the glaciers on land that...