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A synthesis of remote sensing data on Wilkins Ice Shelf, Antarctica

  • D.G. Vaughan (a1), D.R. Mantripp (a2), J. Sievers (a3) and C.S.M. Doake (a1)

Abstract

Wilkins Ice Shelf has an area of 16000 km2 and lies off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula bounded by Alexander, Latady, Charcot and Rothschild islands. Several ice shelves, including Wilkins, exist close to a climatic limit of viability. The recent disintegration of the neighbouring Wordie Ice Shelf has been linked to atmopsheric warming observed on the Antarctic Peninsula. The limit of ice-shelf viability thus appears to have migrated south. Should this continue, the question arises; how long will Wilkins Ice Shelf survive?

Compared with the other ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula, few surface glaciological data have been collected on Wilkins Ice Shelf. We compare, contrast and combine a variety of remotely sensed data: the recently declassified GEOSAT Geodetic Mission altimetry, Landsat MSS and TM imagery, and radio-echo sounding data (RES), to study its structure and mass balance regime.

We find that this shelf has an unusual mass balance regime and relies heavily for sustenance on in situ accumulation. Its response to a continued atmospheric warming may be significantly different from that of Wordie Ice Shelf. Wordie Ice Shelf was fed by several dynamic outlet glaciers which accelerated the disintegration process when the ice shelf fractured. Wilkins Ice Shelf by contrast is almost stagnant and is expected to respond by normal calving at the ice front. Changes in the accumulation rate or basal melt-rate may, however, dominate any dynamic effect. Over the last two decades the ice front positions have remained stable.

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References

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