Winter seal-based observations reveal glacial meltwater surfacing in the southeastern Amundsen Sea

Yixi Zheng (Lead Author), Karen J. Heywood, Benjamin G. M. Webber, David P. Stevens, Louise C. Biddle, Lars Boehme, Brice Loose

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Determining the injection of glacial meltwater into polar oceans is crucial for quantifying the climate system response to ice sheet mass loss. However, meltwater is poorly observed and its pathways poorly known, especially in winter. Here we present winter meltwater distribution near Pine Island Glacier using data collected by tagged seals, revealing a highly variable meltwater distribution with two meltwater-rich layers in the upper 250 m and at around 450 m, connected by scattered meltwater-rich columns. We show that the hydrographic signature of meltwater is clearest in winter, when its presence can be unambiguously mapped. We argue that the buoyant meltwater provides near-surface heat that helps to maintain polynyas close to ice shelves. The meltwater feedback onto polynyas and air-sea heat fluxes demonstrates that although the processes determining the distribution of meltwater are small-scale, they are important to represent in Earth system models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number40
JournalCommunications Earth & Environment
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021

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