Atmosphere-ocean-ice interactions in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica

John Turner, Andrew Orr, G. Hilmar Gudmundsson, Adrian Jenkins, Robert G. Bingham, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Thomas J. Bracegirdle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Over recent decades outlet glaciers of the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE), West Antarctica, have accelerated, thinned, and retreated, and are now contributing approximately 10% to global sea level rise. All the ASE glaciers flow into ice shelves, and it is the thinning of these since the 1970s, and their ungrounding from “pinning points” that is widely held to be responsible for triggering the glaciers' decline. These changes have been linked to the inflow of warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CPDW) onto the ASE's continental shelf. CPDW delivery is highly variable and is closely related to the regional atmospheric circulation. The ASE is south of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL), which has a large variability and which has deepened in recent decades. The ASL is influenced by the phase of the Southern Annular Mode, along with tropical climate variability. It is not currently possible to simulate such complex atmosphere-ocean-ice interactions in models, hampering prediction of future change. The current retreat could mark the beginning of an unstable phase of the ASE glaciers that, if continued, will result in collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, but numerical ice sheet models currently lack the predictive power to answer this question. It is equally possible that the recent retreat will be short-lived and that the ASE will find a new stable state. Progress is hindered by incomplete knowledge of bed topography in the vicinity of the grounding line. Furthermore, a number of key processes are still missing or poorly represented in models of ice-flow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-276
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2017


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