Skip to main content Accessibility help

Surface melt and ponding on Larsen C Ice Shelf and the impact of föhn winds

  • Adrian Luckman (a1), Andrew Elvidge (a2), Daniela Jansen (a3), Bernd Kulessa (a1), Peter Kuipers Munneke (a4), John King (a5) and Nicholas E. Barrand (a6)...


A common precursor to ice shelf disintegration, most notably that of Larsen B Ice Shelf, is unusually intense or prolonged surface melt and the presence of surface standing water. However, there has been little research into detailed patterns of melt on ice shelves or the nature of summer melt ponds. We investigated surface melt on Larsen C Ice Shelf at high resolution using Envisat advanced synthetic aperture radar (ASAR) data and explored melt ponds in a range of satellite images. The improved spatial resolution of SAR over alternative approaches revealed anomalously long melt duration in western inlets. Meteorological modelling explained this pattern by föhn winds which were common in this region. Melt ponds are difficult to detect using optical imagery because cloud-free conditions are rare in this region and ponds quickly freeze over, but can be monitored using SAR in all weather conditions. Melt ponds up to tens of kilometres in length were common in Cabinet Inlet, where melt duration was most prolonged. The pattern of melt explains the previously observed distribution of ice shelf densification, which in parts had reached levels that preceded the collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf, suggesting a potential role for föhn winds in promoting unstable conditions on ice shelves.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Surface melt and ponding on Larsen C Ice Shelf and the impact of föhn winds
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Surface melt and ponding on Larsen C Ice Shelf and the impact of föhn winds
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Surface melt and ponding on Larsen C Ice Shelf and the impact of föhn winds
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author


Hide All
Ashcraft, I.S. & Long, D.G. 2006. Comparison of methods for melt detection over Greenland using active and passive microwave measurements. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 27, 24692488.
Bamber, J.L., Gomez-Dans, J.L. & Griggs, J.A. 2009. A new 1 km digital elevation model of the Antarctic derived from combined satellite radar and laser data – Part 1: Data and methods. Cryosphere, 3, 101111.
Barrand, N.E., Vaughan, D.G., Steiner, N., Tedesco, M., Munneke, P.K., van den Broeke, M.R. & Hosking, J.S. 2013. Trends in Antarctic Peninsula surface melting conditions from observations and regional climate modeling. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, 118, 315330.
Berthier, E., Scambos, T.A. & Shuman, C.A. 2012. Mass loss of Larsen B tributary glaciers (Antarctic Peninsula) unabated since 2002. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, 10.1029/2012GL051755.
Cook, A.J. & Vaughan, D.G. 2010. Overview of areal changes of the ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50 years. Cryosphere, 4, 7798.
Davies, T., Cullen, M.J.P., Malcolm, A.J., Mawson, M.H., Staniforth, A., White, A.A. & Wood, N. 2005. A new dynamical core for the Met Office’s global and regional modelling of the atmosphere. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 131, 17591782.
Das, S.B., Joughin, I., Behn, M.D., Howat, I.M., King, M.A., Lizarralde, D. & Bhatia, M.P. 2008. Fracture propagation to the base of the Greenland ice sheet during supraglacial lake drainage. Science, 320, 778781.
Dupont, T.K. & Alley, R.B. 2005. Assessment of the importance of ice-shelf buttressing to ice-sheet flow. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, 10.1029/2004GL022024.
Elvidge, A.D., Renfrew, I.A., King, J.C., Orr, A., Lachlan-Cope, T.A., Weeks, M. & Gray, S.L. 2014. Föhn jets over the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 10.1002/qj.2382.
Fahnestock, M.A., Abdalati, W. & Shuman, C.A. 2002. Long melt seasons on ice shelves of the Antarctic Peninsula: an analysis using satellite-based microwave emission measurements. Annals of Glaciology, 34, 127133.
Gagliardini, O., Durand, G., Zwinger, T., Hindmarsh, R.C.A. & Le Meur, E. 2010. Coupling of ice-shelf melting and buttressing is a key process in ice-sheets dynamics. Geophysical Research Letters, 37, 10.1029/2010GL043334.
Glasser, N.F. & Scambos, T.A. 2008. A structural glaciological analysis of the 2002 Larsen B ice-shelf collapse. Journal of Glaciology, 54, 316.
Holland, P.R., Corr, H.F.J., Pritchard, H.D., Vaughan, D.G., Arthern, R.J., Jenkins, A. & Tedesco, M. 2011. The air content of Larsen ice shelf. Geophysical Research Letters, 38, 10.1029/2011GL047245.
Jansen, D., Kulessa, B., Sammonds, P.R., Luckman, A., King, E.C. & Glasser, N.F. 2010. Present stability of the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Journal of Glaciology, 56, 593600.
Khazendar, A., Rignot, E. & Larour, E. 2011. Acceleration and spatial rheology of Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Geophysical Research Letters, 38, 10.1029/2011GL046775.
King, J.C., Lachlan-Cope, T.A., Ladkin, R.S. & Weiss, A. 2008. Airborne measurements in the stable boundary layer over the Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Boundary-Layer Meteorology, 127, 413428.
Kuipers Munneke, P., Ligtenberg, S.R.M., van den Broeke, M.R. & Vaughan, D.G. 2014. Firn air depletion as a precursor of Antarctic ice-shelf collapse. Journal of Glaciology, 60, 10.3189/2014JoG13J183.
Kunz, L.B. & Long, D.G. 2006. Melt detection in Antarctic ice shelves using scatterometers and microwave radiometers. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 44, 24612469.
Luckman, A., Jansen, D., Kulessa, B., King, E.C., Sammonds, P. & Benn, D.I. 2012. Basal crevasses in Larsen C Ice Shelf and implications for their global abundance. Cryosphere, 6, 113123.
MacAyeal, D.R. & Sergienko, O.V. 2013. The flexural dynamics of melting ice shelves. Annals of Glaciology, 54, 110.
Marshall, G.J., Orr, A., van Lipzig, N.P.M. & King, J.C. 2006. The impact of a changing Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode on Antarctic Peninsula summer temperatures. Journal of Climate, 19, 53885404.
McGrath, D., Steffen, K., Rajaram, H., Scambos, T., Abdalati, W. & Rignot, E. 2012. Basal crevasses on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctica: implications for meltwater ponding and hydrofracture. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, 10.1029/2012GL052413.
Monaghan, A.J., Bromwich, D.H., Chapman, W. & Comiso, J.C. 2008. Recent variability and trends of Antarctic near-surface temperature. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, 113, 10.1029/2007JD009094.
Morris, E.M. & Vaughan, D.G. 2003. Spatial and temporal variation of surface temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula and the limit of viability of ice shelves. Antarctic Research Series, 79, 6168.
Munneke, P.K., van den Broeke, M.R., King, J.C., Gray, T. & Reijmer, C.H. 2012. Near-surface climate and surface energy budget of Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Cryosphere, 6, 353363.
Nghiem, S.V., Steffen, K., Kwok, R. & Tsai, W.Y. 2001. Detection of snowmelt regions on the Greenland ice sheet using diurnal backscatter change. Journal of Glaciology, 47, 539547.
Orr, A., Cresswell, D., Marshall, G.J., Hunt, J.C.R., Sommeria, J., Wang, C.G. & Light, M. 2004. A ‘low-level’ explanation for the recent large warming trend of the western Antarctic Peninsula involving blocked winds and changes in zonal circulation. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, 10.1029/2003GL019160.
Orr, A., Phillips, T., Webster, S., Elvidge, A., Weeks, M., Hosking, S. & Turner, J. 2013. Met Office Unified Model high-resolution simulations of a strong wind event in Antarctica. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 10.1002/qj.2296.
Picard, G., Fily, M. & Gallee, H. 2007. Surface melting derived from microwave radiometers: a climatic indicator in Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology, 46, 2934.
Pollard, D. & DeConto, R.M. 2009. Modelling West Antarctic ice sheet growth and collapse through the past five million years. Nature, 458, 329332.
Pritchard, H.D., Ligtenberg, S.R.M., Fricker, H.A., Vaughan, D.G., van den Broeke, M.R. & Padman, L. 2012. Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature, 484, 502505.
Ridley, J. 1993. Surface melting on Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves detected by passive microwave sensors. Geophysical Research Letters, 20, 26392642.
Rack, W. & Rott, H. 2004. Pattern of retreat and disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Annals of Glaciology, 39, 505510.
Rist, M.A., Sammonds, P.R., Oerter, H. & Doake, C.S.M. 2002. Fracture of Antarctic shelf ice. Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth, 107, 10.1029/2000JB000058.
Rösel, A. 2013. Detection of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice with optical satellite data. Berlin: Springer, 106 pp.
Rott, H., Skvarca, P. & Nagler, T. 1996. Rapid collapse of northern Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Science, 271, 788792.
Rott, H., Müller, F., Nagler, T. & Floricioiu, D. 2011. The imbalance of glaciers after disintegration of Larsen B Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Cryosphere, 5, 125134.
Scambos, T.A., Hulbe, C., Fahnestock, M. & Bohlander, J. 2000. The link between climate warming and break-up of ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula. Journal of Glaciology, 46, 516530.
Selmes, N., Murray, T. & James, T.D. 2011. Fast draining lakes on the Greenland ice sheet. Geophysical Research Letters, 38, 10.1029/2011GL047872.
Sergienko, O. & MacAyeal, D.R. 2005. Surface melting on Larsen ice shelf, Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology, 40, 215218.
Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B., Tignor, M. & Miller, H.L., eds. 2007. Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 996 pp.
Speirs, J.C., McGowan, H.A., Steinhoff, D.F. & Bromwich, D.H. 2013. Regional climate variability driven by föhn winds in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. International Journal of Climatology, 33, 945958.
Stark, J.D., Donlon, C.J., Martin, M.J. & McCulloch, M.E. 2007. OSTIA: an operational, high resolution, real time, global sea surface temperature analysis system. Conference proceedings from OCEANS 2007 - Europe. Aberdeen: IEEE, 4 pp. Accessed at:
Steffen, K., Nghiem, S.V., Huff, R. & Neumann, G. 2004. The melt anomaly of 2002 on the Greenland ice sheet from active and passive microwave satellite observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, 10.1029/2004GL020444.
Stiles, W.H. & Ulaby, F.T. 1980. The active and passive microwave response to snow parameters. 1. Wetness. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans and Atmospheres, 85, 10371044.
Tedesco, M. 2009. Assessment and development of snowmelt retrieval algorithms over Antarctica from k-band spaceborne brightness temperature (1979–2008). Remote Sensing of Environment, 113, 979997.
Tedesco, M. & Monaghan, A. 2009. An updated Antarctic melt record through 2009 and its linkages to high latitude and tropical climate variability. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, 10.1029/2009GL039186.
Torinesi, O., Fily, M. & Genthon, C. 2003. Variability and trends of the summer melt period of Antarctic ice margins since 1980 from microwave sensors. Journal of Climate, 16, 10471060.
Trusel, L.D., Frey, K.E. & Das, S.B. 2012. Antarctic surface melting dynamics: enhanced perspectives from radar scatterometer data. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, 117, 10.1029/2011JF002126.
Turner, J., Colwell, S.R., Marshall, G.J., Lachlan-Cope, T.A., Carleton, A.M., Jones, P.D., Lagun, V., Reid, P.A. & Iagovkina, S. 2005. Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. International Journal of Climatology, 25, 279294.
Turner, J., Barrand, N.E., Bracegirdle, T.J., et al. 2013. Antarctic climate change and the environment: an update. Polar Record, 10, 1017/S0032247413000296.
Ulaby, F.T. & Stiles, W.H. 1981. Microwave response of snow. Advances in Space Research, 1, 131149.
Ulaby, F.T., Moore, R.K. & Fung, A.K. 1986. Microwave remote sensing: active and passive. Volume 1: Microwave remote sensing fundamentals and radiometry. London: Addison Wesley, 456 pp.
Van den Broeke, M. 2005. Strong surface melting preceded collapse of Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, 10.1029/2005GL023247.
Vaughan, D.G. 2006. Recent trends in melting conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and implications for Ice-Sheet mass balance and sea level. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, 38, 147152.
Vaughan, D.G. 2008. West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse: the fall and rise of a paradigm. Climatic Change, 91, 6579.
Wang, L., Sharp, M., Rivard, B. & Steffen, K. 2007. Melt season duration and ice layer formation on the Greenland ice sheet, 2000–2004. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, 112, 10.1029/2007JF000760.
Whiteman, C.D. 2000. Mountain meteorology: fundamentals and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 368 pp.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed