Ocean-ice interactions with possible implications for Arctic ice shelves

Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 16:00
3007 (Moscone West)
Richard B Alley, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, United States
Confined ice shelves restrain flow of non-floating ice, allowing ice sheets to grow larger than they otherwise would. Ice shelves lead a precarious existence, subject to fragmentation if sufficient meltwater fills crevasses, and very sensitive to even slight warming of water beneath. Ice shelves tend to exist in the coldest waters in the world ocean, often overlying warmer, more-saline waters. Changes in water temperature or circulation generally shrink existing ice shelves and raise sea level by unbuttressing the non-floating ice, and this is likely the most important control on marine-ending parts of land ice, exceeding the influence of sea-level or accumulation-rate changes. Advance of an ice-shelf grounding line into warmer, deeper water will increase melting rates, reduce buttressing, and tend to stabilize the grounding line near or above the upper limit of that warmer water. This physical understanding indicates that the oceanographic state, and its interaction with tributary ice streams, must have been central in the extent of Arctic ice shelves once sufficient cooling occurred to allow extensive advance of land ice into the ocean.