Research ArticleEARTH SCIENCES

Ocean heat drives rapid basal melt of the Totten Ice Shelf

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Science Advances  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 12, e1601610
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601610

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Abstract

Mass loss from the West Antarctic ice shelves and glaciers has been linked to basal melt by ocean heat flux. The Totten Ice Shelf in East Antarctica, which buttresses a marine-based ice sheet with a volume equivalent to at least 3.5 m of global sea-level rise, also experiences rapid basal melt, but the role of ocean forcing was not known because of a lack of observations near the ice shelf. Observations from the Totten calving front confirm that (0.22 ± 0.07) × 106 m3 s−1 of warm water enters the cavity through a newly discovered deep channel. The ocean heat transport into the cavity is sufficient to support the large basal melt rates inferred from glaciological observations. Change in ocean heat flux is a plausible physical mechanism to explain past and projected changes in this sector of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution to sea level.

Keywords
  • ocean-ice shelf interaction
  • Totten Glacier
  • East Antarctica
  • basal melt
  • sea level

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