Shear-margin melting causes stronger transient ice discharge than ice-stream melting in idealized simulations

Johannes Feldmann*, Ronja Reese, Ricarda Winkelmann, Anders Levermann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Basal ice-shelf melting is the key driver of Antarctica's increasing sea-level contribution. In diminishing the buttressing force of the ice shelves that fringe the ice sheet, the melting increases the ice discharge into the ocean. Here we contrast the influence of basal melting in two different ice-shelf regions on the time-dependent response of an isothermal, inherently buttressed ice-sheet-shelf system. In the idealized numerical simulations, the basal-melt perturbations are applied close to the grounding line in the ice-shelf's (1) ice-stream region, where the ice shelf is fed by the fastest ice masses that stream through the upstream bed trough and (2) shear margins, where the ice flow is slower. The results show that melting below one or both of the shear margins can cause a decadal to centennial increase in ice discharge that is more than twice as large compared to a similar perturbation in the ice-stream region. We attribute this to the fact that melt-induced ice-shelf thinning in the central grounding-line region is attenuated very effectively by the fast flow of the central ice stream. In contrast, the much slower ice dynamics in the lateral shear margins of the ice shelf facilitate sustained ice-shelf thinning and thereby foster buttressing reduction. Regardless of the melt location, a higher melt concentration toward the grounding line generally goes along with a stronger response. Our results highlight the vulnerability of outlet glaciers to basal melting in stagnant, buttressing-relevant ice-shelf regions, a mechanism that may gain importance under future global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1927-1940
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Early online date20 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2022


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