Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Pan–ice-sheet glacier terminus change in East Antarctica reveals sensitivity of Wilkes Land to sea-ice changes

Science Advances  06 May 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 5, e1501350
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501350

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The dynamics of ocean-terminating outlet glaciers are an important component of ice-sheet mass balance. Using satellite imagery for the past 40 years, we compile an approximately decadal record of outlet-glacier terminus position change around the entire East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) marine margin. We find that most outlet glaciers retreated during the period 1974–1990, before switching to advance in every drainage basin during the two most recent periods, 1990–2000 and 2000–2012. The only exception to this trend was in Wilkes Land, where the majority of glaciers (74%) retreated between 2000 and 2012. We hypothesize that this anomalous retreat is linked to a reduction in sea ice and associated impacts on ocean stratification, which increases the incursion of warm deep water toward glacier termini. Because Wilkes Land overlies a large marine basin, it raises the possibility of a future sea level contribution from this sector of East Antarctica.

  • East Antarctic Ice Sheet
  • Antarctica
  • sea ice
  • glaciers
  • Wilkes Land

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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