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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 10 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 10 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

New gravity-derived bathymetry for the Thwaites, Crosson and Dotson ice shelves revealing two ice shelf populations

Tom A. Jordan1, David Porter2, Kirsty Tinto2, Romain Millan3, Atsuhiro Muto4, Kelly Hogan1, Robert D. Larter1, Alastair G. C. Graham5, and John D. Paden6 Tom A. Jordan et al.
  • 1British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
  • 2Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory
  • 3Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement, Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, 38000 Grenoble, France
  • 4Dept. of Earth and Environmental Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA
  • 5College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
  • 6Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), The University of Kansas, Kansas 66045, USA

Abstract. Ice shelves play a critical role in the long-term stability of ice sheets through their buttressing effect. The underlying bathymetry and cavity thickness are key inputs for modelling future ice sheet evolution. However, direct observation of sub-ice shelf bathymetry is time consuming, logistically risky, and in some areas simply not possible. Here we use airborne gravity anomaly data to provide new estimates of sub-ice shelf bathymetry outboard of the rapidly changing West Antarctic Thwaites Glacier, and beneath the adjacent Dotson and Crosson Ice Shelves. This region is of especial interest as the low-lying inland reverse slope of the Thwaites glacier system makes it vulnerable to marine ice sheet instability, with rapid grounding-line retreat observed since 1993 suggesting this process may be underway. Our results confirm a major marine channel > 800 m deep extends to the front of Thwaites Glacier, while the adjacent ice shelves are underlain by more complex bathymetry. Comparison of our new bathymetry with ice shelf draft reveals that ice shelves formed since 1993 comprise a distinct population where the draft conforms closely to the underlying bathymetry, unlike the older ice shelves which show a more uniform depth of the ice base. This indicates that despite rapid basal melting in some areas, these “new” ice shelves are not yet in equilibrium with the underlying ocean system. We propose qualitative models of how this transient ice-shelf configuration may have developed.

Tom A. Jordan et al.

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Tom A. Jordan et al.

Tom A. Jordan et al.


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Latest update: 02 Apr 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Linking ocean and ice sheet processes allow prediction of sea level change. Ice shelves form a floating buffer between the ice-ocean systems 10s of km wide, but the water depth beneath is often a mystery, leaving a critical blind spot in our understanding of how these systems interact. Here we use airborne measurements of gravity to reveal the bathymetry under the ice shelves flanking the rapidly changing Thwaites and adjacent glacier systems, providing new insights and data for future models.
Linking ocean and ice sheet processes allow prediction of sea level change. Ice shelves form a...