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Irreversible warm inflow threatens ice shelf

“ Rising air temperatures above the Weddell Sea could set off a self-amplifying meltwater feedback cycle. ” - Researchers at Alfred Wegener Institute
A graphic illustrating the impact a loss of sea ice is expected to have on the ice shelf. Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute

An irreversible inflow of warm water under the ice shelf could begin within the next few decades, according to climate researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

New research suggests that rising air temperatures above the Weddell Sea could set off a self-amplifying meltwater feedback cycle under the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the second half of the century. If this happens, the second-largest ice shelf in the Antarctic could shrink dramatically.

Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) used an ice-ocean model to decode the oceanographic and physical processes that could lead to an irreversible inflow of warm water under the ice shelf. This phenomenon has already been observed in the Amundsen Sea.

The surrounding sea ice has a telling impact on the great Antarctic ice shelves. The amount of salt released as the sea ice forms, creates a protective sheath of extremely salty water that protects the shelf from the inflow of warmer water.

The simulations run at the AWI show that this cold-water barrier could be permanently lost over the next few decades, as a result of rising air temperatures over the Weddell Sea that slow the formation of sea ice.

These comparatively small-scale changes may mark the beginning of a fundamental and irrevocable transformation in the southern Weddell Sea. 

An irreversible inflow of warm water under the ice shelf could begin within the next few decades, according to climate researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute

New research suggests that rising air temperatures above the Weddell Sea could set off a self-amplifying meltwater feedback cycle under the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the second half of the century. If this happens, the second-largest ice shelf in the Antarctic could shrink dramatically.

Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) used an ice-ocean model to decode the oceanographic and physical processes that could lead to an irreversible inflow of warm water under the ice shelf. This phenomenon has already been observed in the Amundsen Sea.

The surrounding sea ice has a telling impact on the great Antarctic ice shelves. The amount of salt released as the sea ice forms, creates a protective sheath of extremely salty water that protects the shelf from the inflow of warmer water.

The simulations run at the AWI show that this cold-water barrier could be permanently lost over the next few decades, as a result of rising air temperatures over the Weddell Sea that slow the formation of sea ice.

These comparatively small-scale changes may mark the beginning of a fundamental and irrevocable transformation in the southern Weddell Sea. 

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