Publications

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2018
Minchew, BM, Gudmundsson GH, Gardner AS, Paolo FS, Fricker HA.  2018.  Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 64:333-342.   10.1017/jog.2018.24   AbstractWebsite

Satellite observations of gravity anomalies, ice-surface elevation and glacier velocity show significant increases in net grounded-ice-mass loss over the past decade along the Bellingshausen Sea sector (BSS), West Antarctica, in areas where warm (> 1 degrees C) sea water floods the continental shelf. These observations provide compelling but indirect evidence that mass losses are driven primarily by reduced buttressing from the floating ice shelves caused by ocean-driven ice-shelf thinning. Here, we combine recent observations of ice velocity, thickness and thickness changes with an ice flow model to study the instantaneous dynamic response of BSS outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning, alone. Our model results show that multiple BSS outlet glaciers respond instantaneously to observed ice-shelf thinning, particularly in areas where ice shelves ground at discrete points. Increases in modeled and observed dynamic mass losses, however, account for similar to 5% of the mass loss rates estimated from gravity anomalies and changes in ice-surface elevation, suggesting that variations in surface mass balance may be key to understanding recent BSS mass loss. Our approach isolates the impact of ice-shelf thinning on glacier flow and shows that if ice-shelf thinning continues at or above current rates, total BSS mass loss will increase in the next decade.

2015
Holland, PR, Brisbourne A, Corr HFJ, McGrath D, Purdon K, Paden J, Fricker HA, Paolo FS, Fleming AH.  2015.  Oceanic and atmospheric forcing of Larsen C Ice-Shelf thinning. Cryosphere. 9:1005-1024.   10.5194/tc-9-1005-2015   AbstractWebsite

The catastrophic collapses of Larsen A and B ice shelves on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula have caused their tributary glaciers to accelerate, contributing to sea-level rise and freshening the Antarctic Bottom Water formed nearby. The surface of Larsen C Ice Shelf (LCIS), the largest ice shelf on the peninsula, is lowering. This could be caused by unbalanced ocean melting (ice loss) or enhanced firn melting and compaction (englacial air loss). Using a novel method to analyse eight radar surveys, this study derives separate estimates of ice and air thickness changes during a 15-year period. The uncertainties are considerable, but the primary estimate is that the surveyed lowering (0.066 +/- 0.017 myr(-1)) is caused by both ice loss (0.28 +/- 0.18 myr(-1)) and firn-air loss (0.037 +/- 0.026 myr(-1)). The ice loss is much larger than the air loss, but both contribute approximately equally to the lowering because the ice is floating. The ice loss could be explained by high basal melting and/or ice divergence, and the air loss by low surface accumulation or high surface melting and/or compaction. The primary estimate therefore requires that at least two forcings caused the surveyed lowering. Mechanisms are discussed by which LCIS stability could be compromised in the future. The most rapid pathways to collapse are offered by the ungrounding of LCIS from Bawden Ice Rise or ice-front retreat past a "compressive arch" in strain rates. Recent evidence suggests that either mechanism could pose an imminent risk.

2014
Holt, TO, Glasser NF, Fricker HA, Padman L, Luckman A, King O, Quincey DJ, Siegfried MR.  2014.  The structural and dynamic responses of Stange Ice Shelf to recent environmental change. Antarctic Science. 26:646-660.   10.1017/s095410201400039x   AbstractWebsite

Stange Ice Shelf is the most south-westerly ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, a region where positive trends in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures have been recently documented. In this paper, we use a range of remotely sensed datasets to evaluate the structural and dynamic responses of Stange Ice Shelf to these environmental changes. Ice shelf extent and surface structures were examined at regular intervals from optical and radar satellite imagery between 1973 and 2011. Surface speeds were estimated in 1989, 2004 and 2010 by tracking surface features in successive satellite images. Surface elevation change was estimated using radar altimetry data acquired between 1992 and 2008 by the European Remote Sensing Satellite (ERS) -1, -2 and Envisat. The mean number of surface melt days was estimated using the intensity of backscatter from Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument between 2006 and 2012. These results show significant shear fracturing in the southern portion of the ice shelf linked to enhanced flow speed as a consequence of measured thinning. However, we conclude that, despite the observed changes, Stange Ice Shelf is currently stable.

2013
Walker, CC, Bassis JN, Fricker HA, Czerwinski RJ.  2013.  Structural and environmental controls on Antarctic ice shelf rift propagation inferred from satellite monitoring. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface. 118:2354-2364.   10.1002/2013jf002742   AbstractWebsite

Iceberg calving from ice shelves accounts for nearly half of the mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, yet our understanding of this process is limited. The precursor to iceberg calving is large through-cutting fractures, called rifts, that can propagate for decades after they have initiated until they become iceberg detachment boundaries. To improve our knowledge of rift propagation, we monitored the lengths of 78 rifts in 13 Antarctic ice shelves using satellite imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer between 2002 and 2012. This data set allowed us to monitor trends in rift propagation over the past decade and test if variation in trends is controlled by variable environmental forcings. We found that 43 of the 78 rifts were dormant, i.e., propagated less than 500 m over the observational interval. We found only seven rifts propagated continuously throughout the decade. An additional eight rifts propagated for at least 2 years prior to arresting and remaining dormant for the rest of the decade, and 13 rifts exhibited isolated sudden bursts of propagation after 2 or more years of dormancy. Twelve of the fifteen active rifts were initiated at the ice shelf fronts, suggesting that front-initiated rifts are more active than across-flow rifts. Although we did not find a link between the observed variability in rift propagation rate and changes in atmospheric temperature or sea ice concentration correlated with, we did find a statistically significant correlation between the arrival of tsunamis and propagation of front-initiated rifts in eight ice shelves. This suggests a connection between ice shelf rift propagation and mechanical ocean interaction that needs to be better understood.

2010
Brunt, KM, Fricker HA, Padman L, Scambos TA, O'Neel S.  2010.  Mapping the grounding zone of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, using ICESat laser altimetry. Annals of Glaciology. 51:71-79. AbstractWebsite

We use laser altimetry from the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to map the grounding zone (CZ) of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, at 491 locations where ICESat tracks cross the grounding line (GL). Ice flexure in the GZ occurs as the ice shelf responds to short-term sea-level changes due primarily to tides. ICESat repeat-track analysis can be used to detect this region of flexure since each repeated pass is acquired at a different tidal phase; the technique provides estimates for both the landward limit of flexure and the point where the ice becomes hydrostatically balanced. We find that the ICESat-derived landward limits of tidal flexure are, in many places, offset by several km (and up to similar to 60 km) from the GL mapped previously using other satellite methods. We discuss the reasons why different mapping methods lead to different GL estimates, including: instrument limitations; variability in the surface topographic structure of the GZ; and the presence of ice plains. We conclude that reliable and accurate mapping of the GL is most likely to be achieved when based on synthesis of several satellite datasets.

2009
Scambos, T, Fricker HA, Liu CC, Bohlander J, Fastook J, Sargent A, Massom R, Wu AM.  2009.  Ice shelf disintegration by plate bending and hydro-fracture: Satellite observations and model results of the 2008 Wilkins ice shelf break-ups. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 280:51-60.   10.1016/j.epsl.2008.12.027   AbstractWebsite

Satellite remote sensing observations of three break-up events in 2008 for the Wilkins Ice Shelf (28 February to 6 March, 27 May to 31 May, and 28 June to mid-July) provide unprecedented detail of ice shelf calving during rapid break-up. The observations reveal that the Wilkins break-ups occur through a distinctive type of shelf calving, which we term 'disintegration', as well as more typical rifting and calving. Here we focus on the disintegration process, which is characterized by repeated rapid fracturing that creates narrow ice-edge-parallel blocks, with subsequent block toppling and fragmentation forming an expanding iceberg and ice rubble mass. We use these data to develop and test a model of floating ice plate disintegration in which ice plate bending stresses at the ice front arising from buoyancy forces can lead to runaway calving when free (mobile) water is available. High-resolution satellite images and laser altimetry of the first break-up event provide details of fracture spacings, ice thicknesses, and plate bending profiles that agree well with our model predictions. We suggest that surface or near-surface meltwater is the main pre-condition for disintegration, and that hydro-fracture is the main mechanism. Brine layers from near-waterline brine infiltration can support a similar process, but this is less effective unless regional ice stress patterns contribute to the net stress available at the crack tip for fracturing. A combination of brine-enhanced fracturing and changing internal net extensional stresses was the likely mechanism behind the latter two Wilkins events. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2005
Bassis, JN, Coleman R, Fricker HA, Minster JB.  2005.  Episodic propagation of a rift on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. 32   10.1029/2004gl022048   AbstractWebsite

We investigate ice shelf rift propagation using a combination of GPS and seismic measurements near the tip of an active rift in the Amery Ice Shelf. These measurements reveal that propagation occurs in episodic bursts, which were identified based on swarms of seismicity accompanied by rapid rift widening. The bursts last approximately 4 hours and are separated by 10-24 days. In between bursts, the rift widens at a rate comparable to that of ice shelf spreading. Comparison of automatic weather station data and tidal amplitudes show that the propagation bursts are not directly triggered by winds or tides, suggesting that rift propagation is driven by the background glaciological stress in the ice shelf. We show that the ice debris that partly fills the rift may play a role in controlling the rate of propagation.