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Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell


Massom, RA and Scambos, TA and Bennetts, LG and Reid, P and Squire, VA and Stammerjohn, SE, Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell, Nature, 558, (7710) pp. 383-389. ISSN 0028-0836 (2018) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1


Understanding the causes of recent catastrophic ice shelf disintegrations is a crucial step towards improving coupled models of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and predicting its future state and contribution to sea-level rise. An overlooked climate-related causal factor is regional sea ice loss. Here we show that for the disintegration events observed (the collapse of the Larsen A and B and Wilkins ice shelves), the increased seasonal absence of a protective sea ice buffer enabled increased flexure of vulnerable outer ice shelf margins by ocean swells that probably weakened them to the point of calving. This outer-margin calving triggered wider-scale disintegration of ice shelves compromised by multiple factors in preceding years, with key prerequisites being extensive flooding and outer-margin fracturing. Wave-induced flexure is particularly effective in outermost ice shelf regions thinned by bottom crevassing. Our analysis of satellite and ocean-wave data and modelling of combined ice shelf, sea ice and wave properties highlights the need for ice sheet models to account for sea ice and ocean waves.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Antarctic, ice shelf, disintegration, sea ice, change, ocean swell
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Physical geography and environmental geoscience
Research Field:Glaciology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Effects of climate change on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Massom, RA (Dr Robert Massom)
UTAS Author:Reid, P (Dr Phillip Reid)
ID Code:129182
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:121
Deposited By:CRC-Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems
Deposited On:2018-11-14
Last Modified:2022-08-29

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