A 20-year study of melt processes over Larsen C Ice Shelf using a high-resolution regional atmospheric model: Part 2, Drivers of surface melting

Ella Gilbert, Andrew Orr, Ian A. Renfrew, John C. King, Thomas Lachlan-Cope

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Quantifying the relative importance of the atmospheric drivers of surface melting on the Larsen C ice shelf is critical in the context of recent and future climate change. Here, we present analysis of a new multidecadal, high-resolution model hindcast using the Met Office Unified Model, described in Part 1 of this study. We evaluate the contribution of various atmospheric conditions in order to identify and rank, for the first time, the most significant causes of melting over the recent past. We find the primary driver of surface melting on Larsen C is solar radiation. Foehn events are the second most important contributor to surface melting, especially in nonsummer seasons when less solar radiation is received at the surface of the ice shelf. Third, cloud influences surface melting via its impact on the surface energy balance (SEB); when the surface temperature is warm enough, cloud can initiate or prolong periods of melting. Lastly, large-scale circulation patterns such as the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), El Niño Southern Oscillation, and Amundsen Sea Low control surface melting on Larsen C by influencing the local meteorological conditions and SEB. These drivers of melting interact and overlap, e.g., the SAM influences the frequency of foehn, commonly associated with leeside cloud clearances and sunnier conditions. Ultimately, these drivers matter because sustained surface melting on Larsen C could destabilize the ice shelf via hydrofracturing, which would have consequences for the fate of the ice shelf and sea levels worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JD036012
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number8
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


  • Antarctic peninsula
  • Larsen C ice shelf
  • meteorology
  • model hindcast
  • regional climate modeling
  • surface melt

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