Antarctic ice shelf risks collapse due to warm mountain winds

Published by  Communications

On 29th Apr 2021

Antarctica’s fourth largest ice shelf risks collapse due to mountain winds, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The Larsen C Ice Shelf is located on the Antarctic Peninsula, which currently experiences the highest surface melt rates across Antarctica. Melt rates have been increasing in response to strengthening circumpolar winds that result from ozone depletion and increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.

The study provides the first comprehensive explanation for the melt experienced across the ice shelf.

Strengthening circumpolar winds have brought more warm maritime air to the region and increased the frequency and strength of warm mountain wind events known as foehn over the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where Larsen C is located. The research found foehn winds drive the highest melt rates and govern the variability of melt across the ice shelf.

Dr Andrew Elvidge, a senior research associate in UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, led the research. He will present the findings today at the annual meeting of the European Geophysical Union.

Dr Elvidge said: “Our study has shown that the dominant control on Larsen C surface melt is the occurrence, strength and warmth of foehn winds, and that the most intense foehn-driven melt occurs in embayments, or inlets.

“From previous studies we know these regions are now prone to melt water ponding, which is the precursor to hydrofracture, when crevasses are driven open by the weight of water generated by surface melt. This is the mechanism believed to have caused the catastrophic collapses of the nearby Larsen A and B ice shelves in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

“Foehn-driven melt on Larsen C is likely to increase in the future, with further strengthening of the circumpolar winds expected due to increasing greenhouse gas concentations.

“The collapse of ice shelves causes the glaciers that previously fed them to speed up and drain directly into the ocean, which leads to sea level rise.”

The research, with co-author Prof Ian Renfrew of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences and scientists from Utrecht University and the British Antarctic Survey, used measurements of the ice shelf and atmosphere gathered between November 2014 to June 2017, in conjunction with atmospheric model simulations.

According to their findings, the inlets of Larsen C experience the highest melt rates, and although foehn winds are seen just 15 per cent of the time, they account for 45 per cent of the surface melt.

Dr Elvidge said: “This region is one of the fastest-warming on Earth and currently experiences the highest surface melt rates across Antarctica.

“Further work with weather and climate models is needed to improve predictions of the timescales on which Larsen C will become vulnerable to atmosphere-driven collapse.”

‘Atmospheric drivers of melt on Larsen C ice shelf: surface energy budget regimes and the impact of Foehn’ will be presented April 29, 2021 at the Annual Meeting of the European Geophysical Union.

Study with us

Explore our research

Latest News

  News
Blue and white pills falling onto a flat surface.
01 Dec 2021

The diabetes medication that could revolutionise heart failure treatment

A medication originally used for patients with diabetes is the first to help people with heart failure and could revolutionise treatment, according to new UEA...

Read more >
  News
A phone on a table with the reflection of a palm tree on it
29 Nov 2021

Locking your phone in a box can help you break free

Going cold turkey without your phone on holiday may be the key to healthier digital wellbeing, a new study from the University of East Anglia and the University...

Read more >
  News
Letters on wooden blocks spelling out the word dementia
26 Nov 2021

De-cluttering may not help people with dementia

A clutter-free environment may not help people with dementia carry out daily tasks – according to a new UEA study.

Read more >
  News
Two fruit flies facing each other on a stick of celery.
24 Nov 2021

How eating less in early life could help with reproduction later on

Switching from a restricted diet to eating as much as you like could be beneficial for reproduction in later life, according to new UEA research.

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
Two fruit flies facing each other on a stick of celery.
24 Nov 2021

How eating less in early life could help with reproduction later on

Switching from a restricted diet to eating as much as you like could be beneficial for reproduction in later life, according to new UEA research.

Read more >
  News
A jaguar in the Pantanal, South America
23 Nov 2021

Wildlife conservation and economically viable land use are compatible

Wildlife conservation on land that is also economically viable is possible, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
  News
Landslide into river near the village of Chakhu
19 Nov 2021

Earthquakes and rainfall lead to increase in landslides in Nepal

Earthquakes and extreme rainfall can lead to a six-fold increase in the rates of rainfall-triggered landslides occurring during Nepal’s monsoon season, according...

Read more >
  News
02 Nov 2021

Read November issue of yoUr chEm mAg

The November edition of UEA's Chemistry Magazine is now available.

Read more >
  News
Fields in Colombia
30 Nov 2021

All systems GROW for UEA's Colombian project

This month saw the largest and most important summit of 2021, COP26. UEA made its presence felt in a number of ways, including showcasing the results of their...

Read more >