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Ice and ocean processes in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

Observations west of the Antarctic Peninsula show diminishing sea ice and a rapid warming of atmosphere and ocean, changes that have led to the collapse of ice shelves and the thinning of inland ice. In the centre of the nearby Bellingshausen Sea, however, ocean observations are spatially and temporally coarse, hampering progress in understanding the critical processes there.

This paper uses ocean and sea-ice models to investigate this important region. The model recreates the basal melting of local ice shelves for the years 1979–2007. Melt rates beneath George VI Ice Shelf are investigated in detail, and may have been out of balance (i.e. thinning the ice shelf) for decades. This melt rate contains a high level of interannual variability that the model links to variation in offshore sea-ice conditions. This contrasts with the Amundsen Sea, where models suggest that ice-shelf melting is controlled by variable transport of Circumpolar Deep Water onto the continental shelf. Conditions on the Bellingshausen Sea shelf are less variable, as it is situated further from foci of annual and interannual atmospheric variability.

Understanding these important processes helps us to better estimate the potential ice-shelf consequences of the rapid change in this sensitive region of Antarctica.

Find link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive


Holland, P. R., Jenkins, A., Holland, D. M., 2010


Journal of Geophysical Research, 115, No. C5, C05020, doi:10.1029/2008JC005219, 16p.