High basal melting forming a channel at the grounding line of Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica

Marsh, OJ, Fricker HA, Siegfried MR, Christianson K, Nicholls KW, Corr HFJ, Catania G.  2016.  High basal melting forming a channel at the grounding line of Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:250-255.

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beneath, ice shelf channels, meltwater, phase-sensitive radar, radar, rates, Sheet, stream, West Antarctica, Whillans ice stream


Antarctica's ice shelves are thinning at an increasing rate, affecting their buttressing ability. Channels in the ice shelf base unevenly distribute melting, and their evolution provides insight into changing subglacial and oceanic conditions. Here we used phase-sensitive radar measurements to estimate basal melt rates in a channel beneath the currently stable Ross Ice Shelf. Melt rates of 22.20.2ma(-1) (>2500% the overall background rate) were observed 1.7km seaward of Mercer/Whillans Ice Stream grounding line, close to where subglacial water discharge is expected. Laser altimetry shows a corresponding, steadily deepening surface channel. Two relict channels to the north suggest recent subglacial drainage reorganization beneath Whillans Ice Stream approximately coincident with the shutdown of Kamb Ice Stream. This rapid channel formation implies that shifts in subglacial hydrology may impact ice shelf stability.