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Drift of large tabular icebergs in response to atmospheric surface pressure gradients, an observational study

  • Ian D. Turnbull (a1)

Abstract

While ocean current and winds certainly play a major role in guiding the trajectories of free-floating icebergs, the direct effect of atmospheric surface pressure gradients can also have an important influence on the trajectories of large icebergs whose horizontal dimensions are sufficiently great to span synoptic systems. This effect is examined as a way of understanding why icebergs B15A, B15J, B15K, and C16 became “trapped” in a limited region immediately north of Ross Island for a period of several years, without being grounded. This limited region is otherwise flushed annually by summer surface winds and currents; thus the delay of the northward drift of the large icebergs (particularly B15A and B15J) defied expectation. The best explanation for this unexpected iceberg behaviour is that the large volcanic massifs on Ross Island create a quasi-permanent surface pressure anomaly patterned as a dipole, with high pressure in the area upwind of the island (an area appropriately called Windless Bight), and low pressure in the downwind area of the iceberg parking lot. The surface pressure regime experienced by two icebergs B15A and B15K is estimated using Automatic Weather Station observations and Global Positioning System receivers deployed on their surfaces to explain why they remained trapped. Breakdown of the atmospheric pressure gradients allowed them to eventually escape from the region to the north-west.

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Drift of large tabular icebergs in response to atmospheric surface pressure gradients, an observational study

  • Ian D. Turnbull (a1)

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