The impact of overturning and horizontal circulation in Pine Island Trough on ice shelf melt in the eastern Amundsen Sea

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The ice shelves around the Amundsen Sea are rapidly melting as a result of the circulation of relatively warm ocean water into their cavities. However, little is known about the processes that determine the variability of this circulation. Here we use an ocean circulation model to diagnose the relative importance of horizontal and vertical (overturning) circulation within Pine Island Trough, leading to Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves. We show that melt rates and southwardCircumpolar Deep Water (CDW)transports covary over large parts of the continental shelf at interannual to decadal time scales. The dominant external forcing mechanism for this variability is Ekman pumping and suction on the continental shelf and at the shelf break, in agreementwith previous studies.At the continental shelf break, the southward transport of CDWand heat is predominantly barotropic. Farther south within Pine Island Trough, northward and southward barotropic heat transports largely cancel, and the majority of the net southward temperature transport is facilitated by baroclinic and overturning circulations. The overturning circulation is related to water mass transformation and buoyancy gain on the shelf that is primarily facilitated by freshwater input from basal melting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-83
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Antarctica
  • Baroclinic flows
  • Barotropic flows
  • Decadal variability
  • Meridional overturning circulation

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