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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 2 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 505-520, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 09 Feb 2018

Research article | 09 Feb 2018

Recent rift formation and impact on the structural integrity of the Brunt Ice Shelf, East Antarctica

Jan De Rydt1,a, G. Hilmar Gudmundsson1,a, Thomas Nagler2, Jan Wuite2, and Edward C. King1 Jan De Rydt et al.
  • 1British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, CB3 0ET, Cambridge, UK
  • 2ENVEO, ICT-Technologiepark, Technikerstr. 21a, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
  • anow at: Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK

Abstract. We report on the recent reactivation of a large rift in the Brunt Ice Shelf, East Antarctica, in December 2012 and the formation of a 50km long new rift in October 2016. Observations from a suite of ground-based and remote sensing instruments between January 2000 and July 2017 were used to track progress of both rifts in unprecedented detail. Results reveal a steady accelerating trend in their width, in combination with alternating episodes of fast ( > 600m day−1) and slow propagation of the rift tip, controlled by the heterogeneous structure of the ice shelf. A numerical ice flow model and a simple propagation algorithm based on the stress distribution in the ice shelf were successfully used to hindcast the observed trajectories and to simulate future rift progression under different assumptions. Results show a high likelihood of ice loss at the McDonald Ice Rumples, the only pinning point of the ice shelf. The nascent iceberg calving and associated reduction in pinning of the Brunt Ice Shelf may provide a uniquely monitored natural experiment of ice shelf variability and provoke a deeper understanding of similar processes elsewhere in Antarctica.

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Short summary
We provide an unprecedented view into the dynamics of two active rifts in the Brunt Ice Shelf through a unique set of field observations, novel satellite data products, and a state-of-the-art ice flow model. We describe the evolution of fracture width and length in great detail, pushing the boundaries of both spatial and temporal coverage, and provide a deeper insight into the process of iceberg formation, which exerts an important control over the mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
We provide an unprecedented view into the dynamics of two active rifts in the Brunt Ice Shelf...