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Recent Retreat of Wilkins Ice Shelf Reveals New Insights in Ice Shelf Breakup Mechanisms

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2 Author(s)
Braun, M. ; Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces, Univ. of Bonn, Bonn ; Humbert, A.

The disintegration of various ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula has demonstrated their vulnerability and impacts on tributary glaciers. A satellite image of Wilkins Ice Shelf (WIS) from July of 2007 reveals the formation of a large new double fracture, accompanied by numerous small fractures. We show that bending stresses induced by buoyancy forces were responsible for fracture formation. On February 28-29, 2008, an area of about 425 km2 broke up at a narrow connection of the WIS to one of its confining islands. In contrast to Larsen B Ice Shelf, melt ponds that drain into crevasses played no role in this breakup process. A further breakup of 160 km2 in the same area occurred on May 30-31, 2008 and documented that breakup can occur during austral winter. Radar images reveal a frozen surface, which demonstrates that in this breakup, surface melt water did not play a role. We conclude that ice shelves with strong thickness contrasts carry potential for disintegration. The fact that the WIS experienced two breakup events under two widely contrasting surface conditions (one during the melt season and one during winter) reveals that there may be several reasons for the disintegration of ice shelves that operate under differing circumstances.

Published in:

Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters, IEEE  (Volume:6 ,  Issue: 2 )