Oceanographic observations at the shelf break of the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

Dziga P. Walker*, Adrian Jenkins, Karen M. Assmann, Deborah R. Shoosmith, Mark A. Brandon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


The glaciers draining into the Amundsen Sea Embayment are rapidly losing mass, making a significant contribution to current sea level rise. Studies of Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in this region indicate that the mass loss is associated with rapid melting of its floating ice shelf driven by warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) that is able to penetrate all the way to its grounding line, and that recent intensification of the mass loss is associated with higher melt rates and stronger subice-shelf circulation. CDW is sourced from within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) situated well north of the glacial ice fronts. To be able to access the Amundsen Sea glaciers, CDW must first cross the continental shelf break where the deep ocean meets the shallower waters of the continental shelf. Here, we present data that shows how CDW moves along the continental slope and across the shelf break into the Amundsen Sea. On-shelf flow of CDW is enhanced where a subsea trough bisects the shelf edge. A previously unreported undercurrent is observed flowing eastward along the shelf edge and when this current encounters the trough mouth it circulates southward into the trough and toward the glaciers. Upwelling associated with this trough circulation appears to allow Lower CDW onto the shelf that would otherwise be blocked by the topography. These observations concur with the results of a theoretical modeling study of circulation in a similar topographic setting and also with the results of a regional ocean/ice modeling study of the Amundsen Sea specifically. Key Points Ocean properties and currents at the Amundsen Sea continental shelf edge An eastward undercurrent at the shelf edge is identified The undercurrent carries Circumpolar Deep Water onto the shelf via a trough

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2906-2918
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number6
Early online date13 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


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