On the coupled response to ice-shelf basal melting

Christopher M. Little, Daniel N Goldberg, Anand Gnanadesikan, Michael Oppenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Ice-shelf basal melting is tightly coupled to ice-shelf morphology. Ice shelves, in turn, are coupled to grounded ice via their influence on compressive stress at the grounding line ('ice-shelf buttressing'). Here, we examine this interaction using a local parameterization that relates the basal melt rate to the ice-shelf thickness gradient. This formulation permits a closed-form solution for a steady-state ice tongue. Time-dependent numerical simulations reveal the spatial and temporal evolution of ice-shelf/ice-stream systems in response to changes in ocean temperature, and the influence of morphology-dependent melting on grounding-line retreat. We find that a rapid (<1 year) re-equilibration in upstream regions of ice shelves establishes a spatial pattern of basal melt rates (relative to the grounding line) that persists over centuries. Coupling melting to ice-shelf shape generally, but not always, increases grounding-line retreat rates relative to a uniform distribution with the same areaaverage melt rate. Because upstream ice-shelf thickness gradients and retreat rates increase nonlinearly with thermal forcing, morphology-dependent melting is more important to the response of weakly buttressed, strongly forced ice streams grounded on beds that slope upwards towards the ocean (e.g. those in the Amundsen Sea).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of Glaciology
Issue number208
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2012


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