Collaborative Research: Investigating the Role of Coastal Polynya Variability in Modulating Antarctic Marine-Terminating Glacier Drawdown
Coastal polynya influences on ice shelves
The majority of mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, a major contributor to sea level rise, occurs at its margins, where ice meets the ocean. Glaciers and ice streams flow towards the coast and can go afloat over the water, forming ice shelves. Ice shelves make up almost half of the entire Antarctic coastline, and hold back the flow of inland ice in Antarctica continent; thus they are integral to the overall stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Ice shelves lose mass by two main processes: iceberg calving and basal melting. Temporal and spatial fluctuations in both are driven by various processes; a major driver of ice shelf melt is the heat provided by the neighboring Southern Ocean. Ocean heat, in turn, is driven by various aspects of the ice shelf environment. One of the most significant contributors to changes in the ocean’s heat content is the presence of sea ice. This research will focus on the effects of coastal polynyas (areas of open water amidst sea ice), how they modulate the local ocean environment, and how that environment drives ice shelf basal melting. To date, the relationship between polynyas and ice shelf melt has not been characterized on an Antarctic-wide scale. Understanding the feedbacks between polynya size and duration, ocean stratification, and ice shelf melt, and the strength of those feedbacks, will improve the ability to characterize influences on the long-term stability of ice shelves, and in turn, the Antarctic Ice Sheet as a whole. A critical aspect of this study is that it will provide a framework for understanding ice shelf-ocean interaction across a diverse range of geographic settings. This, together with improvements of various models, will help interpret the impacts of future climate change on these systems, as their responses are likely quite variable and, on the whole, different from the large-scale response of the ice sheet. This project will also provide a broader context to better design future observational studies of specific coastal polynya and ice shelf processes.
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