Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Meltwater produced by wind–albedo interaction stored in an East Antarctic ice shelf

Abstract

Surface melt and subsequent firn air depletion can ultimately lead to disintegration of Antarctic ice shelves1,2 causing grounded glaciers to accelerate3 and sea level to rise. In the Antarctic Peninsula, foehn winds enhance melting near the grounding line4, which in the recent past has led to the disintegration of the most northerly ice shelves5,6. Here, we provide observational and model evidence that this process also occurs over an East Antarctic ice shelf, where meltwater-induced firn air depletion is found in the grounding zone. Unlike the Antarctic Peninsula, where foehn events originate from episodic interaction of the circumpolar westerlies with the topography, in coastal East Antarctica high temperatures are caused by persistent katabatic winds originating from the ice sheet’s interior. Katabatic winds warm and mix the air as it flows downward and cause widespread snow erosion, explaining >3 K higher near-surface temperatures in summer and surface melt doubling in the grounding zone compared with its surroundings. Additionally, these winds expose blue ice and firn with lower surface albedo, further enhancing melt. The in situ observation of supraglacial flow and englacial storage of meltwater suggests that ice-shelf grounding zones in East Antarctica, like their Antarctic Peninsula counterparts, are vulnerable to hydrofracturing7.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Meltwater features on the RBIS.
Figure 2: Summer near-surface climate and surface conditions of the RBIS.
Figure 3: Measured firn conditions over the RBIS.
Figure 4: Surface meltwater features in East Antarctica.

References

  1. Van den Broeke, M. R. Strong surface melting preceded collapse of Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, 1–4 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Kuipers Munneke, P., Ligtenberg, S. R. M., Van Den Broeke, M. R. & Vaughan, D. G. Firn air depletion as a precursor of Antarctic ice-shelf collapse. J. Glaciol. 60, 205–214 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Rignot, E. et al. Accelerated ice discharge from the Antarctic Peninsula following the collapse of Larsen B ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L18401 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Hubbard, B. et al. Massive subsurface ice formed by refreezing of ice-shelf melt ponds. Nat. Commun. 7, 11897 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cape, M. R. et al. Foehn winds link climate-driven warming to ice shelf evolution in Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 11037–11057 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Luckman, A. et al. Surface melt and ponding on Larsen C Ice Shelf and the impact of Föhn winds. Antarct. Sci. 26, 625–635 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Pollard, D. & Deconto, R. M. Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise. Nature 531, 591–597 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bindschadler, R. et al. Getting around Antarctica: new high-resolution mappings of the grounded and freely-floating boundaries of the Antarctic ice sheet created for the International Polar Year. Cryosphere 5, 569–588 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Fürst, J. J. et al. The safety band of Antarctic ice shelves. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 2014–2017 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Depoorter, M. A. et al. Calving fluxes and basal melt rates of Antarctic ice shelves. Nature 502, 89–92 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Banwell, A. F., MacAyeal, D. R. & Sergienko, O. V. Breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf triggered by chain reaction drainage of supraglacial lakes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 5872–5876 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ligtenberg, S. R. M., Kuipers Munneke, P. & Van den Broeke, M. R. Present and future variations in Antarctic firn air content. Cryosphere 8, 1711–1723 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Macayeal, D. R. & Sergienko, O. V. The flexural dynamics of melting ice shelves. Ann. Glaciol. 54, 1–10 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Liston, G. E., Winther, J. G., Bruland, O., Elvehøy, H. & Sand, K. Below-surface ice melt on the coastal Antarctic ice sheet. J. Glaciol. 45, 273–285 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Phillips, H. A. Surface meltstreams on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol. 27, 177–181 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kingslake, J., Ng, F. & Sole, A. Modelling channelized surface drainage of supraglacial lakes. J. Glaciol. 61, 185–199 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Langley, E. S., Leeson, A. A., Stokes, C. R. & Jamieson, S. S. R. Seasonal evolution of supraglacial lakes on an East Antarctic outlet glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 8563–8571 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lenaerts, J. T. M. et al. High variability of climate and surface mass balance induced by Antarctic ice rises. J. Glaciol. 60, 1101–1110 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Trusel, L. D., Frey, K. E., Das, S. B., Kuipers Munneke, P. & Van den Broeke, M. R. Satellite-based estimates of Antarctic surface meltwater fluxes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 6148–6153 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Lenaerts, J. T. M. & Van den Broeke, M. R. Modeling drifting snow in Antarctica with a regional climate model: 2. Results. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D05108 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Das, I. et al. Influence of persistent wind scour on the surface mass balance of Antarctica. Nat. Geosci. 6, 367–371 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Scambos, T. A., Haran, T. M., Fahnestock, M. A., Painter, T. H. & Bohlander, J. MODIS-based Mosaic of Antarctica (MOA) data sets: continent-wide surface morphology and snow grain size. Remote Sens. Environ. 111, 242–257 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Callens, D. et al. Mass balance of the Sør Rondane glacial system, East Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol. 56, 63–69 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Le Brocq, A. M. et al. Evidence from ice shelves for channelized meltwater flow beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Nat. Geosci. 6, 945–948 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Banwell, A. F. & Macayeal, D. R. Ice-shelf fracture due to viscoelastic flexure stress induced by fill/drain cycles of supraglacial lakes. Antarct. Sci. 27, 587–597 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Scambos, T. A. et al. Extent of low-accumulation ‘wind glaze’ areas on the East Antarctic plateau: implications for continental ice mass balance. J. Glaciol. 58, 633–647 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lenaerts, J. T. M., Vizcaino, M., Fyke, J., Kampenhout, L. & van den Broeke, M. R. Present-day and future Antarctic ice sheet climate and surface mass balance in the Community Earth System Model. Clim. Dynam. 47, 1367–1381 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Van den Broeke, M. R., van de Wal, R. S. W. & Wild, M. Representation of Antarctic katabatic winds in a high-resolution GCM and a note on their climate sensitivity. J. Clim. 10, 3111–3130 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hui, F. et al. Mapping blue-ice areas in Antarctica using ETM + and MODIS data. Ann. Glaciol. 55, 129–137 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Ligtenberg, S. R. M., Helsen, M. M. & Van den Broeke, M. R. An improved semi-empirical model for the densification of Antarctic firn. Cryosphere 5, 809–819 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Kuipers Munneke, P., Van den Broeke, M. R., King, J. C., Gray, T. & Reijmer, C. H. Near-surface climate and surface energy budget of Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Cryosphere 6, 353–363 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Van Angelen, J. H. et al. Sensitivity of Greenland Ice Sheet surface mass balance to surface albedo parameterization: a study with a regional climate model. Cryosphere 6, 1175–1186 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Drews, R. Evolution of ice-shelf channels in Antarctic ice shelves. Cryosphere 9, 1169–1181 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Koenig, L. S. et al. Wintertime storage of water in buried supraglacial lakes across the Greenland Ice Sheet. Cryosphere 9, 1333–1342 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Field data were collected in the framework of the BENEMELT project, in collaboration with the BELSPO project ICECON. BENEMELT benefits from the InBev-Baillet Latour Antarctica Fellowship, a joint initiative of the InBev-Baillet Latour Fund and the International Polar Foundation (IPF) that aims to promote scientific excellence. We gratefully acknowledge field support from IPF, BELSPO, AntarctiQ, the Belgian Polar Secretariat and the Belgian military. We thank G. Eagles, T. Binder and C. Müller from the Alfred Wegener Institute, who first discovered the circular melt feature in 2015. This study is partly funded by Utrecht University through its strategic theme Sustainability, sub-theme Water, Climate & Ecosystems. This work was carried out under the programme of the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC), financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). J.T.M.L. is supported by NWO ALW through a Veni postdoctoral grant. S.L. was supported as a post-doc by FWO. R.D. was funded by the FNRS Project MEDRISSM and partial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgmeinschaft with a grant SPP ‘Antarctic Research’ MA 3347/10-1. Analysis and graphics are made using QGIS package Quantarctica, and the NCAR Command Language (http://dx.doi.org/10.5065/D6WD3XH5). TanDEM-X SLC data were provided by the German Space Agency (DLR) within the proposal ATI_GLAC0267.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.T.M.L. and S.L. contributed equally to this work. J.T.M.L. conceived the study, led the first field season with support from F.P., performed climate simulations with support from W.J.v.d.B., E.v.M. and M.R.v.d.B. and wrote an initial version of the paper. S.L. led the second field season, with support from R.D. and M.E. and was responsible for the remote sensing analyses. R.D. analysed the GPR data. S.R.M.L. was responsible for the firn model simulations. S.B. compiled the ALOS data and the RBIS thickness and basal melting data sets. C.J.P.P.S. performed quality control of the weather station observations. V.H. and O.E. provided a first analysis of the circular melt feature and provided the high-resolution TanDEM-X DEM. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. T. M. Lenaerts.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 4249 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary movie 1 (MOV 2952 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary movie 2 (MOV 6429 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lenaerts, J., Lhermitte, S., Drews, R. et al. Meltwater produced by wind–albedo interaction stored in an East Antarctic ice shelf. Nature Clim Change 7, 58–62 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3180

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3180

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing