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

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Abstract

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.

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APA

Massom, R. A., Scambos, T. A., Bennetts, L. G., Reid, P., Squire, V. A., & Stammerjohn, S. E. (2018). Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell. Nature, 558(7710), 383–389. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1

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