29 Jun 2021
29 Jun 2021
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

The complex basal morphology and ice dynamics of Nansen Ice Shelf, East Antarctica

Christine F. Dow1, Derek Mueller2, Peter Wray1, Drew Friedrichs3,4, Alexander L. Forrest3,4, Jasmin B. McInerney3,4, Jamin Greenbaum5, Donald D. Blankenship6, Choon Ki Lee7, and Won Sang Lee7 Christine F. Dow et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada, N2L 3G1
  • 2Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, K1S 5B6
  • 3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California – Davis, Davis, USA, 95616
  • 4Tahoe Environmental Research Center, University of California – Davis, Incline Village, USA, 89451
  • 5Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
  • 6Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA, 78758
  • 7Division of Glacial Environment Research, Korea Polar Research Institute, Incheon 21990, Republic of Korea

Abstract. Ice shelf dynamics and morphology play an important role in the stability of floating bodies of ice, in turn impacting their ability to buttress upstream grounded ice. We use a combination of satellite-derived data, airborne and ground-based radar data, and oceanographic data collected at the Nansen Ice Shelf in East Antarctica to examine the spatial variations in ice shelf draft, the cause and effects of ice shelf strain rates, and the role of a suture zone driving channelization of ocean water and resulting sub-ice shelf melt and freeze-on. We also use the datasets to assess limitations that may arise from examining only a sub-set of the data, in particular the reliance on hydrostatic balance equations applied to surface digital elevation models to determine ice draft morphology. We find that the Nansen Ice Shelf has highly variable basal morphology driven primarily by the formation of basal crevasses near the onset of floating ice convergence in the suture zone. This complex morphology is reflected in the ice shelf strain rates but not in the calculated hydrostatic balance thickness, which underestimates the scale of vertical and horizontal variability at the ice shelf base. The combination of thinner ice in the channelized suture zone, enhanced melt rates near the ice shelf edge, and complex strain rates driven by ice dynamics and morphology have led to the formation of fractures within the suture zone that have resulted in large-scale calving events. Other Antarctic ice shelves may also have complex morphology, which is not reflected in the satellite data, yet may influence their stability.

Christine F. Dow et al.

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Christine F. Dow et al.

Christine F. Dow et al.


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Short summary
Ice shelves are a key control on Antarctic contribution to sea level rise. Here we examine Nansen Ice Shelf in East Antarctica using a combination of satellite data and field data. We find the basal topography of the ice shelf is highly variable, only partially visible in satellite datasets. We also find that the thinnest region of the ice shelf is altered over time by ice flow rates and ocean melting. These processes can cause fractures to form that eventually result in large calving events.