Climate response to increasing Antarctic iceberg and ice shelf melt

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Mass loss from the Antarctic continent is increasing; however, climate models either assume a constant mass loss rate or return snowfall over land to the ocean to maintain equilibrium. Numerous studies have investigated sea ice and ocean sensitivity to this assumption and reached different conclusions, possibly due to different representations of melt fluxes. The coupled atmosphere-land-ocean-sea ice model, HadGEM3-GC3.1, includes a realistic spatial distribution of coastal melt fluxes, a new ice shelf cavity parameterization, and explicit representation of icebergs. This configuration makes it appropriate to revisit how increasing melt fluxes influence ocean and sea ice and to assess whether responses to melt from ice shelves and icebergs are distinguishable. We present results from simulated scenarios of increasing meltwater fluxes and show that these drive sea ice increases and, for increasing ice shelf melt, a decline in Antarctic Bottom Water formation. In our experiments, the mixed layer around the Antarctic coast deepens in response to rising ice shelf meltwater and shallows in response to stratification driven by iceberg melt. We find similar surface temperature and salinity responses to increasing meltwater fluxes from ice shelves and icebergs, but midlayer waters warm to greater depths and farther north when ice shelf melt is present. We show that as meltwater fluxes increase, snowfall becomes more likely at lower latitudes and Antarctic Circumpolar Current transport declines. These insights are helpful for interpretation of climate simulations that assume constant mass loss rates and demonstrate the importance of representing increasing melt rates for both ice shelves and icebergs.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8917–8938
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number20
Early online date14 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


    Research areas

  • Antarctica, Climate models, Coupled models, Sea ice, Southern Ocean

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