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
Dr Lisa Taylor
05 Aug 2021

Pandemic-adapted placement learning model helps Associate Professor land highest teaching award

Dr Lisa Taylor, from UEA's School of Health Sciences, has reached the pinnacle of the Higher Education teaching profession, having been awarded a National...

Read more >
  News
Old film reel
03 Aug 2021

Lights, camera, representation! UEA research aims to make female filmmakers more visible

A ground-breaking project to shine a light on the role of women filmmakers, will start this month led by a team of University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers.

Read more >
  News
MRI scanner being used in the new Brain Imaging Centre
29 Jul 2021

UEA opens £3m Wellcome-Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre

UEA has officially opened the doors of its new £3m state-of-the-art neuroimaging research centre, thanks to funding totalling £1.3m from two charitable...

Read more >
  News
Ziggurats on campus
28 Jul 2021

UEA becomes one of the first universities to join University Mental Health Charter Programme

UEA is among one of the first universities in the country to join Student Minds' new University Mental Health Charter, further demonstrating and developing its...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
Ziggurats on campus
28 Jul 2021

UEA becomes one of the first universities to join University Mental Health Charter Programme

UEA is among one of the first universities in the country to join Student Minds' new University Mental Health Charter, further demonstrating and developing its...

Read more >
  News
28 Jul 2021

UEA scientists to uncover infections that could cause aggressive prostate cancer

Researchers from the University of East Anglia are investigating whether certain infections could trigger the development of aggressive prostate cancer – thanks...

Read more >
  News
28 Jul 2021

How relaxing Covid-19 restrictions could pave the way for vaccine resistance

Relaxing Covid-19 restrictions could pave the way for new vaccine-resistant virus mutations – according to researchers at the University of East Anglia and the...

Read more >
  News
27 Jul 2021

From big Cs to celebrancy - Prof Dylan Edwards says farewell to UEA after 23 years

After a career focused on the study of cancer biology Professor Dylan Edwards is looking at a completely new venture as he says farewell to UEA after 23 years.

Read more >
  News
23 Jul 2021

UEA part of £2.5 million study on links between overlapping long-term health conditions

The links between different long-term health conditions will be explored in new research funded with a £2.5 million grant from the Medical Research Council.

Read more >
  News
21 Jul 2021

The impact of climate change on Kenya's Tana River Basin

Many species within Kenya’s Tana River Basin will be unable to survive if global temperatures continue to rise as they are on track to do – according to new...

Read more >
  News
Film reel
04 Aug 2021

Back to black: Noirwich returns for an eighth year

The line-up for Norwich’s premier crime writing festival, which is co-delivered by UEA, has been announced, with authors Megan Abbott, Steph Cha and David Peace...

Read more >