Ice loss from West Antarctica to the Bellingshausen Sea
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Determination of Antarctica’s ice-sheet mass balance (more correctly, mass imbalance) is of paramount concern due to its impact on global sea levels. Monitoring with satellite remote sensing since the early 1990s has demonstrated that the imbalance has become progressively more negative, with losses dominated by the ocean-forced drawdown of ice from West Antarctica into the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas. Recent years have hosted unprecedented study and increased understanding of the ice-ocean processes contributing to Amundsen-Sea losses, leaving ocean-forced ice-dynamical losses to the Bellingshausen Sea relatively neglected. We therefore present here, with the aid of dedicated field data in austral season 2009/2010, a detailed assessment of the mass imbalance of Ferrigno Ice Stream (FIS), the dominant contributor of mass directly to the Bellingshausen Sea. We assess mass imbalance using the input-output method for (i) 1992, and (ii) 2010; the temporal markers being defined by the acquisition of the first comprehensive satellite-velocity coverage and the acquisition of the field measurements respectively. Input by snowfall is estimated using existing maps of Antarctic snow accumulation calibrated with 2010-acquired field data in the form of a 20-m ice core recovered at the upper FIS ice divide and englacial layering across the catchment imaged with 500 MHz over-snow radar. Output by discharge across the grounding line requires measurements of ice velocity and depth across a “flux gate.” In 2010, we obtained flux gate measurements directly from the field using DGPS and 2 MHz over-snow radar, and we also refer to satellite-acquired ice-velocity data (MeASUREs) and airborne-acquired ice depths (Operation IceBridge) acquired at a similar time. Output from 1992 is calculated using 1992-acquired satellite ice-velocities (Rignot, 2006) and ice depth retroactively inferred from the 2010-acquired ice depth corrected for 1992-2010 surface elevation loss. We calculate that in 2010 FIS was losing ice at a rate of 3-4 Gt a-1 to the ocean, which was ~20% greater than in 1992. The difference is almost entirely explicable through accelerated flow across the grounding line, forced by oceanic melting.