University Of Tasmania

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Antarctic calving loss rivals ice-shelf thinning

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 11:26 authored by Greene, CA, Gardner, AS, Schlegel, N-J, Alexander FraserAlexander Fraser

Antarctica's ice shelves help to control the flow of glacial ice as it drains into the ocean, meaning that the rate of global sea-level rise is subject to the structural integrity of these fragile, floating extensions of the ice sheet1,2,3. Until now, data limitations have made it difficult to monitor the growth and retreat cycles of ice shelves on a large scale, and the full impact of recent calving-front changes on ice-shelf buttressing has not been understood. Here, by combining data from multiple optical and radar satellite sensors, we generate pan-Antarctic, spatially continuous coastlines at roughly annual resolution since 1997. We show that from 1997 to 2021, Antarctica experienced a net loss of 36,701+-1,465 square kilometres (1.9 per cent) of ice-shelf area that cannot be fully regained before the next series of major calving events, which are likely to occur in the next decade. Mass loss associated with ice-front retreat (5,874+-396 gigatonnes) has been approximately equal to mass change owing to ice-shelf thinning over the past quarter of a century (6,113+-452 gigatonnes), meaning that the total mass loss is nearly double that which could be measured by altimetry-based surveys alone. We model the impacts of Antarctica's recent coastline evolution in the absence of additional feedbacks, and find that calving and thinning have produced equivalent reductions in ice-shelf buttressing since 2007, and that further retreat could produce increasingly significant sea-level rise in the future.


Publication title









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Nature Publishing Group

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Macmillan Building, 4 Crinan St, London, England, N1 9Xw

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Copyright © 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

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Socio-economic Objectives

Effects of climate change on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments (excl. social impacts)

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