Modeling the Spreading of Glacial Melt Water from the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:00 PM
Yoshihiro Nakayama1, Ralph Timmermann1, Christian B Rodehacke2, Michael Schröder1 and Hartmut H Hellmer1, (1)Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz-Center for Polar and Marine Research Bremerhaven, Bremerhaven, Germany, (2)Danish Meteorological Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
The ice shelves and glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) are rapidly thinning, especially in the Amundsen Sea (AS) and Bellingshausen Sea (BS). The high basal melting of these small ice shelves is caused by relatively warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) that, based on observations, mainly intrudes via two submarine glacial troughs located at the eastern and central AS continental shelf break. When CDW reaches the grounding line of the fringing glaciers, it melts the glaciers and forms buoyant melt water plumes. As the glacial melt becomes part of the AS shelf circulation, it may cause a freshening of the shelf water locally as well as remotely in the Ross Sea (RS). To test whether the observed freshening of the RS is a consequence of the enhanced basal melting of AS ice shelves, we use Finite-Element Sea-ice/ice-shelf/Ocean Model (FESOM) with a horizontal resolution of 2-10 km on the AS and BS continental shelves. The model is forced with 6-hourly atmospheric data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (NCEP-CFSR) for the period 1979-1988. The model results show bottom temperatures in the AS and BS close to observations, and basal melt rates of AS and BS ice shelves consistent with other observation-based estimates. Using several independent virtual passive tracers to identify pathways of the glacial melt, we find that the melt water from the ice shelves in the AS flows towards the Ross Ice Shelf front. After 10 years of simulation, about half of the melt water in the Ross Sea originates from the Getz Ice Shelf. Further, we investigate the sensitivity of the melt water transport into the RS associated with the strength of the basal melt water flux. When this flux is increased by 30%, the transport of glacial melt into the RS more than doubles, supporting the idea that the basal melting of AS and BS ice shelves is one of the main reasons for the freshening of the RS continental shelf.