Increased West Antarctic ice discharge and East Antarctic stability over the last seven years

  • Gardner A
  • Moholdt G
  • Scambos T
  • et al.
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Ice discharge from large ice sheets plays a direct role in determining rates of sea level rise. We map present-day Antarctic-wide surface velocities using Landsat 7 &amp; 8 imagery spanning 2013&amp;ndash;2015 and compare to earlier estimates derived from synthetic aperture radar, revealing heterogeneous changes in ice flow since ~&amp;thinsp;2008. The new mapping provides complete coastal and inland coverage of ice velocity with a mean error of <&amp;thinsp;10&amp;thinsp;m&amp;thinsp;yr<sup>-1</sup>, resulting from multiple overlapping image pairs acquired during the daylit period. Using an optimized flux gate, ice discharge from Antarctica is 1932&amp;thinsp;±&amp;thinsp;38 Gigatons per year (Gt&amp;thinsp;yr<sup>-1</sup>) in 2015, an increase of 35&amp;thinsp;±&amp;thinsp;15&amp;thinsp;Gt&amp;thinsp;yr<sup>-1</sup> from the time of the radar mapping. Flow accelerations across the grounding lines of West Antarctica's Amundsen Sea Embayment, Getz Ice Shelf and Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula, account for 89&amp;thinsp;% of this increase. In contrast, glaciers draining the East Antarctic Ice Sheet have been remarkably stable over the period of observation. Including modeled rates of snow accumulation and basal melt, the Antarctic ice sheet lost ice at an average rate of 186&amp;thinsp;±&amp;thinsp;93&amp;thinsp;Gt&amp;thinsp;yr<sup>-1</sup> between 2008 and 2015. The modest increase in ice discharge over the past 7 years is contrasted by high rates of ice sheet mass loss and distinct spatial patters of elevation lowering. This suggests that the recent pattern of mass loss in Antarctica, dominated by the Amundsen Sea sector, is likely part of a longer-term phase of enhanced glacier flow initiated in the decades leading up to the first continent wide radar mapping of ice flow.




Gardner, A. S., Moholdt, G., Scambos, T., Fahnstock, M., Ligtenberg, S., van den Broeke, M., & Nilsson, J. (2017). Increased West Antarctic ice discharge and East Antarctic stability over the last seven years. The Cryosphere Discussions, 1–39.

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