Geometric and oceanographic controls on melting beneath Pine Island Glacier

Jan De Rydt*, Paul R. Holland, Pierre Dutrieux, Adrian Jenkins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Observations beneath the floating section of Pine Island Glacier have revealed the presence of a subglacial ridge which rises up to 300 m above the surrounding bathymetry. This topographic feature probably served as a steady grounding line position until sometime before the 1970s, when an ongoing phase of rapid grounding line retreat was initiated. As a result, a large ocean cavity has formed behind the ridge, strongly controlling the ocean circulation beneath the ice shelf and modulating the ocean water properties that cause ice melting in the vicinity of the grounding line. In order to understand how melt rates have changed during the various phases of cavity formation, we use a high-resolution ocean model to simulate the cavity circulation for a series of synthetic geometries. We show that the height of the ridge and the gap between the ridge and ice shelf strongly control the inflow of warm bottom waters into the cavity, and hence the melt rates. Model results suggest a rapid geometrically controlled increase of meltwater production at the onset of ice thinning, but a weak sensitivity to geometry once the gap between the ridge and ice shelf has passed a threshold value of about 200 m. This provides evidence for a new, coupled, ice-ocean feedback acting to enhance the initial retreat of an ice stream from a bedrock high. The present gap is over 200 m, and our results suggest that observed variability in melt rates is now controlled by other factors, such as the depth of the thermocline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2420-2438
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number4
Early online date15 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


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