Reversal of ocean gyres near ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea caused by the interaction of sea ice and wind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Floating ice shelves buttress the Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is losing mass rapidly mainly due to ocean-driven melting and the associated disruption to glacial dynamics. The local ocean circulation near ice shelves is therefore important for the prediction of future ice mass loss and related sea-level rise as it determines the water mass exchange, heat transport under the ice shelf and resultant melting. However, the dynamics controlling the near-coastal circulation are not fully understood. A cyclonic (i.e. clockwise) gyre circulation (27 km radius) in front of the Pine Island Ice Shelf has previously been identified in both numerical models and velocity observations. Mooring data further revealed a potential reversal of this gyre during an abnormally cold period. Here we present ship-based observations from 2019 to the west of Thwaites Ice Shelf, revealing another gyre (13 km radius) for the first time in this habitually ice-covered region, rotating in the opposite (anticyclonic, anticlockwise) direction to the gyre near Pine Island Ice Shelf, despite similar wind forcing. We use an idealised configuration of MITgcm, with idealised forcing based on ERA5 climatological wind fields and a range of idealised sea ice conditions typical for the region, to reproduce key features of the observed gyres near Pine Island Ice Shelf and Thwaites Ice Shelf. The model driven solely by wind forcing in the presence of ice can reproduce the horizontal structure and direction of both gyres. We show that the modelled gyre direction depends upon the spatial difference in the ocean surface stress, which can be affected by the applied wind stress curl filed, the percentage of wind stress transferred through the ice, and the angle between the wind direction and the sea ice edge. The presence of ice, either it is fast ice/ice shelves blocking the effect of wind or mobile sea ice enhancing the effect of wind, has the potential to reverse the gyre direction relative to ice-free conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3005-3019
Number of pages15
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2022

Cite this