Oceanic gateways to Antarctic grounding lines – Impact of critical access depths on sub-shelf melt
Abstract. Melting underneath the floating ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic continent is a key process for the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and therefore its current and future mass loss. Troughs and sills on the continental shelf play a crucial role in modulating sub-shelf melt rates, as they can allow or block the access of relatively warm, modified Circumpolar Deep Water to ice-shelf cavities. Here we identify potential oceanic gateways that could allow the access of warm water masses to Antarctic grounding lines based on critical access depths inferred from high-resolution bathymetry data. We analyse the properties of water masses that are currently present in front of the ice shelf and that might intrude into the respective ice-shelf cavities in the future. We use the ice-shelf cavity model PICO to estimate an upper limit of melt rate changes in case all warm water masses up to a certain depth level gain access to the cavities. We find that melt rates could increase in all regions at least by a factor of 2. Depending on the presence or absence of an oceanic gateway and the current ice-shelf melt conditions we find up to 200-fold larger melt rates. The identification of oceanic gateways is thus valuable for assessing the potential of ice-shelf cavities to switch from a 'cold' to a 'warm' state, which could result in widespread ice loss from Antarctica.
Status: open (until 01 Mar 2024)
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