Antarctic Ice Shelves Important to Prevent Rising Seas

  • Author: Veronika Belusa
  • Published: 13 February 2016
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
  • Source / Publisher: Nature Climate Change/Nature Publishing Group
thumbnail image: Antarctic Ice Shelves Important to Prevent Rising Seas

Antarctica is surrounded by huge ice shelves which prevent the outflow of ice from the land to the sea. Johannes Fürst, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, and colleagues used radar data from satellites such as European Space Agency (ESA)’s European remote sensing satellite (ERS) and Envisat, together with observations of ice thickness from airborne surveys, in a complex model to demonstrate how the buttressing role of the ice shelves is being compromised as the shelves get thinner and retreat inland.

They found that there is a critical point where these shelves act as a safety band, holding back the ice that flows towards the sea. They label frontal areas as ‘passive shelf ice’, which can be removed without major dynamic implications. If more of an ice shelf is lost, the flow of glaciers behind can speed up. This could be the point of no return and contribute to sea-level rise.

The ice shelves in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas have limited or almost no ‘passive’ portion, which implies that further retreat of current ice-shelf fronts will yield important dynamic consequences. This region is particularly vulnerable as ice shelves have been thinning at high rates for two decades and as upstream ice rests on a sloping bed, a precondition to marine ice-sheet instability.

Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea, in contrast, exhibits a large ‘passive’ frontal area. This suggests that the imminent detachment of a vast tabular iceberg (i.e., with steep sides and a flat top) is unlikely to instantly produce much dynamic change. According to the researchers, this discovery will help improve the prediction of future ice outflow from Antarctica.


Article Views: 3324

Sign in Area

Please sign in below

Additional Sign In options

Please note that to comment on an article you must be registered and logged in.
Registration is for free, you may already be registered to receive, e.g., the newsletter. When you register on this website, please ensure you view our terms and conditions. All comments are subject to moderation.

Article Comments - To add a comment please sign in

If you would like to reuse any content, in print or online, from, please contact us first for permission and consult our permission guidance prior to making your request

Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on YouTube Follow on LinkedIn Follow on Instagram RSS Sign up for newsletters

Magazine of Chemistry Europe (16 European Chemical Societies) published by Wiley-VCH