Skip to main content Accessibility help

Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica



Satellite observations of gravity anomalies, ice-surface elevation and glacier velocity show significant increases in net grounded-ice-mass loss over the past decade along the Bellingshausen Sea sector (BSS), West Antarctica, in areas where warm (>1°C) sea water floods the continental shelf. These observations provide compelling but indirect evidence that mass losses are driven primarily by reduced buttressing from the floating ice shelves caused by ocean-driven ice-shelf thinning. Here, we combine recent observations of ice velocity, thickness and thickness changes with an ice flow model to study the instantaneous dynamic response of BSS outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning, alone. Our model results show that multiple BSS outlet glaciers respond instantaneously to observed ice-shelf thinning, particularly in areas where ice shelves ground at discrete points. Increases in modeled and observed dynamic mass losses, however, account for ~5% of the mass loss rates estimated from gravity anomalies and changes in ice-surface elevation, suggesting that variations in surface mass balance may be key to understanding recent BSS mass loss. Our approach isolates the impact of ice-shelf thinning on glacier flow and shows that if ice-shelf thinning continues at or above current rates, total BSS mass loss will increase in the next decade.

  • 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.

      Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica
      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.

      Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica
      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.

      Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica
      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

Correspondence: Brent Minchew <>


Hide All

Present address: Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

Present address: Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK



Hide All
Alley, RB and 7 others (2015) Oceanic forcing of ice-sheet retreat: West Antarctica and more. Annu. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci., 43(1), 207231
Christie, FDW, Bingham, RG, Gourmelen, N, Tett, SFB and Muto, A (2016) Four-decade record of pervasive grounding line retreat along the Bellingshausen margin of West Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(11), 57415749 (doi: 10.1002/2016GL068972), 2016GL068972
Chuter, SJ and Bamber, JL (2015) Antarctic ice shelf thickness from CryoSat-2 radar altimetry. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42(24), 1072110729 (doi: 10.1002/2015GL066515), 2015GL066515
DeConto, RM and Pollard, D (2016) Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise. Nature, 531(7596), 591597
De Rydt, J, Gudmundsson, GH, Rott, H and Bamber, JL (2015) Modeling the instantaneous response of glaciers after the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42(13), 53555363
Dupont, TK and Alley, RB (2005) Assessment of the importance of ice-shelf buttressing to ice-sheet flow. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(4), 14, l04503
Favier, L and 8 others (2014) Retreat of Pine Island Glacier controlled by marine ice-sheet instability. Nat. Clim. Chang., 4, 117121 (doi: 10.1038/nclimate2094)
Fretwell, P and 59 others (2013) Bedmap2: improved ice bed, surface and thickness datasets for Antarctica. Cryosphere, 7(1), 375393.
Fürst, JJ and 6 others (2016) The safety band of Antarctic ice shelves. Nat. Clim. Chang., 6(5), 479482
Gardner, AS and 6 others (2018) Increased West Antarctic and unchanged East Antarctic ice discharge over the last 7 years. Cryosphere, 12(2), 521547 (doi: 10.5194/tc-12-521-2018)
Gudmundsson, GH (2003) Transmission of basal variability to a glacier surface. J. Geophys. Res., 108(B5), 119
Gudmundsson, GH (2013) Ice-shelf buttressing and the stability of marine ice sheets. Cryosphere, 7(2), 647655 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-647-2013)
Gudmundsson, GH, Krug, J, Durand, G, Favier, L and Gagliardini, O (2012) The stability of grounding lines on retrograde slopes. Cryosphere, 6(6), 14971505 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-1497-2012)
Helm, V, Humbert, A and Miller, H (2014) Elevation and elevation change of Greenland and Antarctica derived from CryoSat-2. Cryosphere, 8(4), 15391559 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1539-2014)
Hogg, AE and 11 others (2017) Increased ice flow in Western Palmer Land linked to ocean melting. Geophys. Res. Lett., 44(9), 41594167
Holland, PR, Jenkins, A and Holland, DM (2010) Ice and ocean processes in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 115(C5), C0502016
Holt, TO, Glasser, NF, Quincey, DJ and Siegfried, MR (2013) Speedup and fracturing of George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Cryosphere, 7(3), 797816
Jenkins, A and Jacobs, S (2008) Circulation and melting beneath George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C4), C0401318
Joughin, I, Alley, RB and Holland, DM (2012) Ice-Sheet Response to Oceanic Forcing. Science, 338(6111), 11721176
Joughin, I, Smith, BE and Medley, B (2014) Marine ice sheet collapse potentially under way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica. Science, 344(6185), 735738 (doi: 10.1126/science.1249055)
Kowal, KN, Pegler, SS and Worster, MG (2016) Dynamics of laterally confined marine ice sheets. J. Fluid. Mech., 790(R2), 114 (doi: 10.1017/jfm.2016.37)
MacAyeal, D (1989) Large-scale ice flow over a viscous basal sediment – Theory and application to ice stream-B, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 94(B4), 40714087
MacAyeal, D (1992) The basal stress distribution of Ice Stream E, Antarctica, inferred by control methods. J. Geophys. Res., 97(B1), 595603
MacAyeal, D (1993) A tutorial on the use of control methods in ice-sheet modeling. J. Glaciol., 39(131), 9198
Martín-Español, A, Zammit-Mangion, A, Clarke, PJ, Flament, T, Helm, V, King, MA, Luthcke, SB, Petrie, E, Rémy, F, Schön, N, Wouters, B and Bamber, JL 2016) Spatial and temporal Antarctic Ice Sheet mass trends, glacio-isostatic adjustment, and surface processes from a joint inversion of satellite altimeter, gravity, and GPS data. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 121(2), 182200
McMillan, M and 7 others (2014) Increased ice losses from Antarctica detected by CryoSat-2. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(11), 38993905 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL060111), 2014GL060111
Morlighem, M, Seroussi, H, Larour, E and Rignot, E (2013) Inversion of basal friction in Antarctica using exact and incomplete adjoints of a higher-order model. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(3), 17461753 (doi: 10.1002/jgrf.20125)
Mouginot, J, Rignot, E and Scheuchl, B (2014) Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(5), 15761584 (doi: 10.1002/2013GL059069)
Paolo, FS, Fricker, HA and Padman, L (2015) Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating. Science, 348(6232), 327331 (doi: 10.1126/science.aaa0940)
Pegler, SS (2016) The dynamics of confined extensional flows. J. Fluid. Mech., 804, 2457. (doi: 10.1017/jfm.2016.516)
Pegler, SS (in press) Suppression of marine ice sheet instability. J. Fluid. Mech.
Pritchard, HD, Arthern, RJ, Vaughan, DG and Edwards, LA (2009) Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461, 971975 (doi: 10.1038/nature08471)
Pritchard, HD and 5 others (2012) Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature, 484, 502505 (doi: 10.1038/nature10968)
Rignot, E and 5 others (2004) Accelerated ice discharge from the Antarctic Peninsula following the collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(18), 14
Rignot, E, Mouginot, J and Scheuchl, B (2011) Ice Flow of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science, 333(6048), 14271430 (doi: 10.1126/science.1208336)
Rignot, E, Jacobs, S, Mouginot, J and Scheuchl, B (2013) Ice-shelf melting around Antarctica. Science, 341(6143), 266270 (doi: 10.1126/science.1235798)
Rott, H, Müller, F, Nagler, T and Floricioiu, D (2011) The imbalance of glaciers after disintegration of Larsen-B ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Cryosphere, 5(1), 125134 (doi: 10.5194/tc-5-125-2011)
Scambos, TA, Bohlander, JA, Shuman, CA and Skvarca, P (2004) Glacier acceleration and thinning after ice shelf collapse in the Larsen B embayment, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(18), 14
Schoof, C (2007) Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: Steady states, stability, and hysteresis. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F3), 119 (doi: 10.1029/2006JF000664), F03S28
Seroussi, H and 6 others (2014) Sensitivity of the dynamics of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, to climate forcing for the next 50 years. Cryosphere, 8(5), 16991710 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1699-2014)
Thomas, R (1979) The dynamics of marine ice sheets. J. Glaciol., 24(90), 167177
van Wessem, JM and 13 others (2014) Improved representation of East Antarctic surface mass balance in a regional atmospheric climate model. J. Glaciol., 60(222), 761770
van Wessem, JM and 10 others (2016) The modelled surface mass balance of the Antarctic Peninsula at 5.5 km horizontal resolution. Cryosphere, 10(1), 271285
Williams, CR, Hindmarsh, RCA and Arthern, RJ (2012) Frequency response of ice streams. Proc. R. Soc. A: Math. Phys. Eng. Sci., 468(2147), 32853310
Wouters, B and 7 others (2015) Dynamic thinning of glaciers on the Southern Antarctic Peninsula. Science, 348(6237), 895899 (doi: 10.1126/science.aaa5727)
Zhang, X, Thompson, AF, Flexas, MM, Roquet, F and Bornemann, H (2016) Circulation and meltwater distribution in the Bellingshausen Sea: From shelf break to coast. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 64026409
Zwally, HJ, Giovinetto, MB, Beckley, MA and Saba, JL (2012) Antarctic and Greenland Drainage Systems. GSFC Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory.



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