Sill-Influenced Exchange Flows in Ice Shelf Cavities.


Zhao KX, Stewart AL, McWilliams JC. Sill-Influenced Exchange Flows in Ice Shelf Cavities. Journal of Physical Oceanography. [Internet]. 2019.
Download PDF8.76 MB


Bathymetric sills are important features in the ocean-filled cavities beneath a few fast-retreating ice shelves in West Antarctica and northern Greenland. The sills can be high enough to obstruct the cavity circulation and thereby modulate glacial melt rates. This study focuses on the idealized problem of diabatically-driven, sill-constrained overturning circulation in a cavity. The circulation beneath fast-melting ice shelves can generally be characterized by an inflow of relatively warm dense water (with temperatures of a few degrees C above the local freezing point) at depth and cold, less-dense, outflowing water, which exhibits an approximately two-layer structure in observations. We use a two-layer isopycnal hydrostatic model to study the cross-sill exchange of these waters in ice shelf cavities wide enough to be rotationally-dominated. A quasi-geostrophic constraint is determined for the transport imposed by the stratification. Relative to this constraint, the key parameters controlling the transport and its variability are the sill height relative to the bottom layer thickness and the strength of the friction relative to the potential vorticity (PV) gradient imposed by the sill. By varying these two key parameters, we simulate a diversity of flow phenomena. For a given meridional pressure gradient, the cross-sill transport is controlled by sill height beyond a critical threshold in the eddy-permitting, low-friction regime, while it is insensitive to friction in both the low-friction and high-friction regimes. We present theoretical ideas to explain the flow characteristics: a Stommel boundary layer for the friction-dominated regime; mean-eddy PV balances and energy conversion in the low-friction, low-sill regime; and hydraulic control in the low-friction, high-sill regime, with various estimates for transport in each of these regimes.

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 07/21/2021