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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2018

6 - Ice Sheets and Ice Shelves


The climate of the Greenland ice sheet is determined by latitude and altitude. Mean annual accumulation is ~337 mm, but >2000 mm in the southeast. There are four snow/ice facies. Melt area is irregularly expanding. Supraglacial streams carry melt water to surface lakes and moulins. Surface mass balance became negative from 1990. Mass loss for 2011-14 averaged 296 Gt/yr. The Antarctic ice sheet is mainly grounded on bedrock in the east, but the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is grounded below sea level making it potentially unstable. The climate is extremely cold and arid. Annual melt affects ~10 percent of the ice sheet. Blue ice areas cover 1.7 percent of the ice sheet. Megadunes and glazed areas are common on the East Antarctic plateau. Mass loss of ice has been pronounced in the Amundsen-Bellingshausen Sea sector and the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice shelves are mainly a feature of the Antarctic. There are eleven with the largest being the Ross and Weddell. Thickness decreases from 1600 m at the grounding line to 300 m at the seaward edge. Hydro-fracture of water-filled crevasses probably caused the breakup of Larsen B. Basal melt is related to basal channels transporting upwelled Circumpolar Deep Water.

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