1British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK
2USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, Alaska, USA
3Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
4Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA
5Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
Received: 09 Dec 2014 – Published in The Cryosphere Discuss.: 13 Jan 2015
Abstract. The catastrophic collapses of Larsen A and B ice shelves on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula have caused their tributary glaciers to accelerate, contributing to sea-level rise and freshening the Antarctic Bottom Water formed nearby. The surface of Larsen C Ice Shelf (LCIS), the largest ice shelf on the peninsula, is lowering. This could be caused by unbalanced ocean melting (ice loss) or enhanced firn melting and compaction (englacial air loss). Using a novel method to analyse eight radar surveys, this study derives separate estimates of ice and air thickness changes during a 15-year period. The uncertainties are considerable, but the primary estimate is that the surveyed lowering (0.066 ± 0.017 m yr−1) is caused by both ice loss (0.28 ± 0.18 m yr−1) and firn-air loss (0.037 ± 0.026 m yr−1). The ice loss is much larger than the air loss, but both contribute approximately equally to the lowering because the ice is floating. The ice loss could be explained by high basal melting and/or ice divergence, and the air loss by low surface accumulation or high surface melting and/or compaction. The primary estimate therefore requires that at least two forcings caused the surveyed lowering. Mechanisms are discussed by which LCIS stability could be compromised in the future. The most rapid pathways to collapse are offered by the ungrounding of LCIS from Bawden Ice Rise or ice-front retreat past a "compressive arch" in strain rates. Recent evidence suggests that either mechanism could pose an imminent risk.
Revised: 24 Mar 2015 – Accepted: 27 Mar 2015 – Published: 13 May 2015
Citation: Holland, P. R., Brisbourne, A., Corr, H. F. J., McGrath, D., Purdon, K., Paden, J., Fricker, H. A., Paolo, F. S., and Fleming, A. H.: Oceanic and atmospheric forcing of Larsen C Ice-Shelf thinning, The Cryosphere, 9, 1005-1024, doi:10.5194/tc-9-1005-2015, 2015.