Short Name:

Circumpolar Deep Water and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

This project will study the dynamics of Circumpolar Deep Water intruding on the continental shelf of the West Antarctic coast, and the effect of this intrusion on the production of cold, dense bottom water, and melting at the base of floating glaciers and ice tongues. It will concentrate on the Amundsen Sea shelf, specifically in the region of the Pine Island Glacier, the Thwaites Glacier, and the Getz Ice Shelf. Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) is a relatively warm water mass (warmer than +1.0 deg Celsius) which is normally confined to the outer edge of the continental shelf by an oceanic front separating this water mass from colder and saltier shelf waters. In the Amundsen Sea however, the deeper parts of the continental shelf are filled with nearly undiluted CDW, which is mixed upward, delivering significant amounts of heat to the base of the floating glacier tongues and the ice shelf. The melt rate beneath the Pine Island Glacier averages ten meters of ice per year with local annual rates reaching twenty meters. By comparison, melt rates beneath the Ross Ice Shelf are typically twenty to forty centimeters of ice per year. In addition, both the Pine Island and the Thwaites Glacier are extremely fast-moving, and have a significant effect on the regional ice mass balance of West Antarctica. This project therefore has an important connection to antarctic glaciology, particularly in assessing the combined effect of global change on the antarctic environment. The particular objectives of the project are (1) to delineate the frontal structure on the continental shelf sufficiently to define quantitatively the major routes of CDW inflow, meltwater outflow, and the westward evolution of CDW influence; (2) to use the obtained data set to validate a three-dimensional model of sub-ice ocean circulation that is currently under construction, and (3) to refine the estiamtes of in situ melting on the mass balance of the antarctic ice sheet. The observational program will be carried out from the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer in February and March, 1999.

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