Boundary condition of grounding lines prior to collapse, Larsen-B Ice Shelf, Antarctica

Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1354-1358
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256697

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Top-down rather than bottom-up change

The Larsen-B Ice Shelf in Antarctica collapsed in 2002 because of a regional increase in surface temperature. This finding, reported by Rebesco et al., will surprise many who supposed that the shelf's disintegration probably occurred because of thinning of the ice shelf and the resulting loss of support by the sea floor beneath it. The authors mapped the sea floor beneath the ice shelf before it fell apart, which revealed that the modern ice sheet grounding line was established around 12,000 years ago and has since remained unchanged. If the ice shelf did not collapse because of thinning from below, then it must have been caused by warming from above.

Science, this issue p. 1354


Grounding zones, where ice sheets transition between resting on bedrock to full floatation, help regulate ice flow. Exposure of the sea floor by the 2002 Larsen-B Ice Shelf collapse allowed detailed morphologic mapping and sampling of the embayment sea floor. Marine geophysical data collected in 2006 reveal a large, arcuate, complex grounding zone sediment system at the front of Crane Fjord. Radiocarbon-constrained chronologies from marine sediment cores indicate loss of ice contact with the bed at this site about 12,000 years ago. Previous studies and morphologic mapping of the fjord suggest that the Crane Glacier grounding zone was well within the fjord before 2002 and did not retreat further until after the ice shelf collapse. This implies that the 2002 Larsen-B Ice Shelf collapse likely was a response to surface warming rather than to grounding zone instability, strengthening the idea that surface processes controlled the disintegration of the Larsen Ice Shelf.

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