EGU21-2746, updated on 03 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sources and transport of glacial meltwater in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

Peter Sheehan1, Karen Heywood1, Andrew Thompson2, and Mar Flexas2
Peter Sheehan et al.
  • 1University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences, Centre for Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Norwich, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (
  • 2Environmental Science and Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, United States

Quantifying meltwater content and describing transport pathways is important for understanding the impact of a warming, melting Antarctica on ocean circulation. Meltwater fluxes can affect density-driven, on-shelf flows around the continent, and the formation of the dense water masses that ventilate abyssal regions of the world ocean. We present observations collected from two ocean gliders that were deployed in the Bellingshausen Sea for a period of 10 weeks between January and March of 2020.  Using multiple high-resolution sections, we quantify both the distribution of meltwater concentrations and lateral meltwater fluxes within the Belgica Trough in the Bellingshausen Sea. We observe a cyclonic circulation in the trough, in agreement with previous studies. A meltwater flux of 0.46 mSv is observed flowing northwards in the  western limb of the cyclonic circulation. A newly identified meltwater re-circulation (0.88 mSv) is observed flowing back towards the ice front (i.e. southwards) with the eastern limb of the cyclonic circulation. In addition, 1.16 mSv of meltwater is observed flowing northeastward, parallel to the shelf break, with the northern limb of the cyclonic circulation. Peak meltwater is concentrated into two layers associated with different density surfaces: one approximately 150 m deep (27.4 kg m-3) and one approximately 200 m deep (27.6 kg m-3}). The deeper of these layers is characterised by an elevated optical backscatter, which indicates a more turbid water mass. The shallower layer is less turbid, and is more prominent closer to the shelf break and in the eastern part of the Belgica Trough. We hypothesise that the deeper, turbid meltwater layer originates locally from the Venables Ice Shelf, whereas the shallower, less turbid meltwater layer, comprises meltwater from ice shelves in the eastern Bellingshausen Sea. The broad distribution of meltwater from multiple sources suggests the potential for remote interactions and feedbacks between the various ice shelves that abut the Bellingshausen Sea.

How to cite: Sheehan, P., Heywood, K., Thompson, A., and Flexas, M.: Sources and transport of glacial meltwater in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-2746,, 2021.


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