Bi-stability of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf Cavity Circulation and Basal Melt


Hazel JE, Stewart AL. Bi-stability of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf Cavity Circulation and Basal Melt. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans [Internet]. 2020;125 :e2019JC015848.
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Circulation and water mass transformation within the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf (FRIS) cavity create precursors to Antarctic bottom water, which closes the global overturning circulation. This water mass transformation is contingent upon a relative low rate of FRIS basal melt, currently around 100–200 Gt/yr. Previous studies have indicated that Antarctic climate changes may induce intrusions of warm modified Warm Deep Water (mWDW) and an order-of-magnitude increase in basal melt, and signatures of mWDW have recently been observed along the face of the FRIS. However, it remains unclear how changes in near-Antarctic climate translate mechanistically to changes in mWDW access to the FRIS cavity. In this study a regional model is developed to investigate FRIS circulation dependence on local atmospheric state. Experiments with modified initial cavity conditions but identical atmospheric states yield bistable “warm” and “cold” FRIS cavity states, with an order-of-magnitude difference in basal melt rates. Idealized atmospheric perturbation experiments reveal that relatively modest perturbations to the katabatic winds shift the FRIS cavity between “warm” and “cold” states, which occur when the FRIS cavity is filled by mWDW or High Salinity Shelf Water (HSSW), respectively. The authors present a conceptual model in which the FRIS cavity state is determined by whether mWDW or HSSW is denser and thus floods the cavity; these states are bistable because the basal melt rate feeds back on the salinity of HSSW. These findings highlight a key role for the katabatic winds in mediating the melt of the FRIS and other Antarctic ice shelves

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Last updated on 07/30/2020