Ross Ice Shelf response to climate driven by the tectonic imprint on seafloor bathymetry

Tinto, KJ, Padman L, Siddoway CS, Springer SR, Fricker HA, Das I, Tontini FC, Porter DF, Frearson NP, Howard SL, Siegfried MR, Mosbeux C, Becker MK, Bertinato C, Boghosian A, Brady N, Burton BL, Chu W, Cordero SI, Dhakal T, Dong L, Gustafson CD, Keeshin S, Locke C, Lockett A, O'Brien G, Spergel JJ, Starke SE, Tankersley M, Wearing MG, Bell RE.  2019.  Ross Ice Shelf response to climate driven by the tectonic imprint on seafloor bathymetry. Nature Geoscience. 12:441-+.

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airborne, basal melt rates, beneath, circulation, geology, gravity, greenland, icebridge gravity, ocean variability, surface, topography, West Antarctica


Ocean melting has thinned Antarctica's ice shelves at an increasing rate over the past two decades, leading to loss of grounded ice. The Ross Ice Shelf is currently close to steady state but geological records indicate that it can disintegrate rapidly, which would accelerate grounded ice loss from catchments equivalent to 11.6 m of global sea level rise. Here, we use data from the ROSETTA-Ice airborne survey and ocean simulations to identify the principal threats to Ross Ice Shelf stability. We locate the tectonic boundary between East and West Antarctica from magnetic anomalies and use gravity data to generate a new high-resolution map of sub-ice-shelf bathymetry. The tectonic imprint on the bathymetry constrains sub-ice-shelf ocean circulation, protecting the ice shelf grounding line from moderate changes in global ocean heat content. In contrast, local, seasonal production of warm upper-ocean water near the ice front drives rapid ice shelf melting east of Ross Island, where thinning would lead to faster grounded ice loss from both the East and West Antarctic ice sheets. We confirm high modelled melt rates in this region using ROSETTA-Ice radar data. Our findings highlight the significance of both the tectonic framework and local ocean-atmosphere exchange processes near the ice front in determining the future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.