EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Investigating basal thaw as a driver of mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheet

Eliza Dawson1, Dustin Schroeder1,2, Winni Chu3, Elisa Mantelli4, and Hélène Seroussi5
Eliza Dawson et al.
  • 1Department of Geophysics, Stanford University, US (
  • 2Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, US (
  • 3School of Earth and Atmospheric Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, US (
  • 4University of Tasmania, IMAS, Australia (
  • 5Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, US (

Contemporary mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheet primarily originates from the discharge of
marine-terminating glaciers and ice streams. The rate of mass loss is influenced by warming ocean
and atmospheric conditions, which lead to subsequent thinning or disintegration of ice shelves and
increased outflow of upstream grounded ice. It is currently unclear how the basal thermal state of
grounded ice could evolve in the future - for example as a result of accelerated ice flow or changes
in the ice sheet geometry - but a change in the basal thermal state could impact rates of mass loss
from Antarctica. Here, we use a combination of numerical simulations and ice-penetrating radar
analysis to investigate the influence of basal thawing on 100yr simulations of the Antarctic ice
sheet’s evolution. Using the Ice-sheet and Sea-level System Model, we find that thawing patches
of frozen bed near the ice sheet margin could drive mass loss extending into the continental
interior, with the highest rates of loss coming from the George V - Adélie - Wilkes Land coast and
the Enderby - Kemp Land regions of East Antarctica. This suggests that the thawing of localized
frozen bed patches is sufficient to cause these East Antarctic regions to transition to an unstable
mass loss regime. We constrain model estimates of the basal thermal state using ice-penetrating
radar surveys and analyze radar characteristics including bed reflectivity and attenuation. In
combination, our work identifies critical regions of Antarctica where the ice-bed interface could
be close to thawing and where basal thaw could most impact mass loss.

How to cite: Dawson, E., Schroeder, D., Chu, W., Mantelli, E., and Seroussi, H.: Investigating basal thaw as a driver of mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheet, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-13501,, 2022.

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