Wåhlin et al. (2020) Ice front blocking of ocean heat transport to an Antarctic ice shelf

A. Wåhlin, N. Steiger, E. Darelius, K.M. Assmann, M.S. Glessmer, H.K. Ha, L. Herraiz-Borreguero, C. Heuzé, A. Jenkins, T.W. Kim, A.K. Mazur, J. Sommeria, and S. Viboud (2020), Ice front blocking of ocean heat transport to an Antarctic ice shelf. Nature, 578, 568–571, doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2014-5.

In autumn 2017, we spent a month at the Coriolis rotating platform in Grenoble (France) and had way too much fun in their 13-m diameter tank playing with lasers and cameras and building a plexiglass ice shelf. Back to the office, a comparison of our experiment results with measurements from moorings by the Getz ice shelf revealed that:

  • the steep change in water depth at the ice shelf front blocks the barotropic component of the flow;
  • the baroclinic component, which contains very little heat, is the only one that can intrude under the ice shelf;
  • the thinner the ice shelf, the more the heat-rich barotropic component can intrude and further melt the ice shelf from below.

That is, we discovered yet another worrying self-reinforcing climate change feedback: as the ice shelf melts in response to warming ocean and atmosphere, the change in water depth becomes less steep, and the warmer barotropic flow can start contributing to the melting and accelerate it. For more information, check the full text.

Download the full-text here.

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