Tracking changes in the area, thickness, and volume of the Thwaites tabular iceberg "b30" using satellite altimetry and imagery

Anne Braakmann-Folgmann*, Andrew Shepherd, Andy Ridout

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Icebergs account for half of all ice loss from Antarctica and, once released, present a hazard to maritime operations. Their melting leads to a redistribution of cold fresh water around the Southern Ocean which, in turn, influences water circulation, promotes sea ice formation, and fosters primary production. In this study, we combine CryoSat-2 satellite altimetry with MODIS and Sentinel-1 satellite imagery and meteorological data to track changes in the area, freeboard, thickness, and volume of the B30 tabular iceberg between 2012 and 2018. We track the iceberg elevation when it was attached to Thwaites Glacier and on a further 106 occasions after it calved using Level 1b CryoSat data, which ensures that measurements recorded in different acquisition modes and within different geographical zones are consistently processed. From these data, we map the iceberg's freeboard and estimate its thickness taking snowfall and changes in snow and ice density into account. We compute changes in freeboard and thickness relative to the initial average for each overpass and compare these to estimates from precisely located tracks using the satellite imagery. This comparison shows good agreement (correlation coefficient 0.87) and suggests that colocation reduces the freeboard uncertainty by 1.6 m. We also demonstrate that the snow layer has a significant impact on iceberg thickness change. Changes in the iceberg area are measured by tracing its perimeter, and we show that alternative estimates based on arc lengths recorded in satellite altimetry profiles and on measurements of the semi-major and semi-minor axes also capture the trend, though with a 48 % overestimate and a 15 % underestimate, respectively. Since it calved, the area of B30 has decreased from 1500±60 to 426±27 km2, its mean freeboard has fallen from 49.0±4.6 to 38.8±2.2 m, and its mean thickness has reduced from 315±36 to 198±14 m. The combined loss amounts to an 80%±16 % reduction in volume, two thirds (69%±14 %) of which is due to fragmentation and the remainder (31%±11 %) of which is due to basal melting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3861-3876
Number of pages16
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

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