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Controls on Larsen C Ice Shelf retreat from a 60-year satellite data record
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  • Shujie Wang,
  • Hongxing Liu,
  • Kenneth C. Jezek,
  • Richard B. Alley,
  • Lei Wang,
  • Patrick M. Alexander,
  • Yan Huang
Shujie Wang
Penn State University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Hongxing Liu
University of Alabama
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Kenneth C. Jezek
Byrd Polar Research Center, The Ohio State University
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Richard B. Alley
Pennsylvania State University
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Lei Wang
Louisiana State University
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Patrick M. Alexander
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
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Yan Huang
East China Normal University
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Rapid retreat of the Larsen A and B ice shelves has provided important clues about the ice shelf destabilization processes. The Larsen C Ice Shelf, the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, may also be vulnerable to future collapse in a warming climate. Here, we utilize multi-source satellite images collected over 1963–2020 to derive multidecadal time series of ice front, flow velocities, and critical rift features over Larsen C, with the aim of understanding the controls on its retreat. We complement these observations with modeling experiments using the Ice-sheet and Sea-level System Model to examine how front geometry conditions and mechanical weakening due to rifts affect ice shelf dynamics. Over the past six decades, Larsen C lost over 20% of its area, dominated by rift-induced tabular iceberg calving. The Bawden Ice Rise and Gipps Ice Rise are critical areas for rift formation, through their impact on the longitudinal deviatoric stress field. Mechanical weakening around Gipps Ice Rise is found to be a primary control on localized flow acceleration, leading to the propagation of two rifts that caused a major calving event in 2017. Capturing the time-varying effects of rifts on ice rigidity in ice shelf models is essential for making realistic predictions of ice shelf flow dynamics and instability. In the context of the Larsen A and Larsen B collapses, we infer a chronology of destabilization processes for embayment-confined ice shelves, which provides a useful framework for understanding the historical and future destabilization of Antarctic ice shelves.
Mar 2022Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface volume 127 issue 3. 10.1029/2021JF006346