skip to main content

Title: The Antarctic Coastal Current in the Bellingshausen Sea
Abstract. The ice shelves of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet experience basal meltinginduced by underlying warm, salty Circumpolar Deep Water. Basal meltwater,along with runoff from ice sheets, supplies fresh buoyant water to acirculation feature near the coast, the Antarctic Coastal Current (AACC). The formation, structure, and coherence of the AACC has been well documented along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Observations from instrumented seals collected in the Bellingshausen Sea offer extensive hydrographic coverage throughout the year, providing evidence of the continuation of the westward flowing AACC from the WAP towards the Amundsen Sea. The observations reported here demonstrate that the coastal boundary current enters the eastern Bellingshausen Sea from the WAP and flows westward along the face of multiple ice shelves, including the westernmost Abbot Ice Shelf. The presence of the AACC in the western Bellingshausen Sea has implications for the export of water properties into the eastern Amundsen Sea, which we suggest may occur through multiple pathways, either along the coast or along the continental shelf break. The temperature, salinity, and density structure of the current indicates an increase in baroclinic transport as the AACC flows from the east to the west, and as it entrains meltwater from the more » ice shelves in the Bellingshausen Sea. The AACC acts as a mechanism to transport meltwater out of the Bellingshausen Sea and into the Amundsen and Ross seas, with the potential to impact, respectively, basal melt rates and bottom water formation in these regions. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1644172
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10294402
Journal Name:
The Cryosphere
Volume:
15
Issue:
9
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
4179 to 4199
ISSN:
1994-0424
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Over recent decades, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has experienced rapid thinning of its floating ice shelves as well as grounding line retreat across its marine-terminating glaciers. The transport of warm Modified Circumpolar Deep Water (MCDW) onto the continental shelf, extensively documented along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), and in the Amundsen Sea, has been identified as the key process for inducing these changes. The Bellingshausen Sea sits between the Amundsen Sea and the northern part of the WAP, but its oceanic properties remain remarkably under-studied compared to surrounding regions. Here, we present observations collected from a hydrographic survey of the Bellingshausen Sea continental shelf in austral summer 2019. Using a combination of ship-based and glider-based CTD and lowered ADCP observations, we show that submarine troughs provide topographically steered pathways for MCDW from the shelf break toward deep embayments and ultimately under floating ice shelves. Warm MCDW enters the continental shelf at the deepest part of the Belgica Trough and flows onshore along the eastern side of the trough. Modification of these shoreward-flowing waters by glacial melt is estimated by calculating meltwater fractions using an optimal multiparameter analysis. Meltwater is found to be elevated at the western edge of bothmore »the Latady and Belgica troughs. Meltwater distributions, consistent with other diagnostics, suggest a recirculation in each trough with modified waters eventually flowing westward upon leaving the Belgica Trough. Our results show that the Bellingshausen Sea is a critical part of the larger West Antarctic circulation system, linking the WAP and the Amundsen Sea.« less
  2. The stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) depends on ocean heat transport toward its base and remains a source of uncertainty in sea level rise prediction. The Antarctic Slope Current (ASC), a major boundary current of the ocean's global circulation, serves as a dynamic gateway for heat transport toward Antarctica. Here, we use observations collected from the Bellingshausen Sea to propose a mechanistic explanation for the initiation of the westward-flowing ASC. Waters modified throughout the Bellingshausen Sea by ocean-sea-ice and ocean-ice-shelf interactions are exported to the continental slope in a narrow, topographically steered western boundary current. This focused outflow produces a localized front at the shelf break that supports the emerging ASC. This mechanism emphasizes the importance of buoyancy forcing, integrated over the continental shelf, as opposed to local wind forcing, in the generation mechanism and suggests the potential for remote control of melt rates of WAIS' largest ice shelves.
  3. The Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica has long been considered the most vulnerable part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) because of the great water depth at the grounding line, a subglacial bed seafloor deepening toward the interior of the continent, and the absence of substantial ice shelves. Glaciers in this configuration are thought to be susceptible to rapid or runaway retreat. Ice flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment is undergoing the most rapid changes of any sector of the Antarctic ice sheets outside the Antarctic Peninsula, including substantial grounding-line retreat over recent decades, as observed from satellite data. Recent models suggest that a threshold leading to the collapse of WAIS in this sector may have been already crossed and that much of the ice sheet could be lost even under relatively moderate greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Drill cores from the Amundsen Sea provide tests of several key questions about controls on ice sheet stability. The cores offer a direct offshore record of glacial history in a sector that is exclusively influenced by ice draining the WAIS, which allows clear comparisons between the WAIS history and low-latitude climate records. Today, relatively warm (modified) Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) is impingingmore »onto the Amundsen Sea shelf and causing melting under ice shelves and at the grounding line of the WAIS in most places. Reconstructions of past CDW intrusions can assess the ties between warm water upwelling and large-scale changes in past grounding-line positions. Carrying out these reconstructions offshore from the drainage basin that currently has the most substantial negative mass balance of ice anywhere in Antarctica is thus of prime interest to future predictions. The scientific objectives for this expedition are built on hypotheses about WAIS dynamics and related paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic conditions. The main objectives are: 1. To test the hypothesis that WAIS collapses occurred during the Neogene and Quaternary and, if so, when and under which environmental conditions; 2. To obtain ice-proximal records of ice sheet dynamics in the Amundsen Sea that correlate with global records of ice-volume changes and proxy records for atmospheric and ocean temperatures; 3. To study the stability of a marine-based WAIS margin and how warm deepwater incursions control its position on the shelf; 4. To find evidence for the earliest major grounded WAIS advances onto the middle and outer shelf; 5. To test the hypothesis that the first major WAIS growth was related to the uplift of the Marie Byrd Land dome. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 completed two very successful drill sites on the continental rise of the Amundsen Sea. Site U1532 is located on a large sediment drift, now called the Resolution Drift, and it penetrated to 794 m with 90% recovery. We collected almost-continuous cores from recent age through the Pleistocene and Pliocene and into the upper Miocene. At Site U1533, we drilled 383 m (70% recovery) into the more condensed sequence at the lower flank of the same sediment drift. The cores of both sites contain unique records that will enable study of the cyclicity of ice sheet advance and retreat processes as well as ocean-bottom water circulation and water mass changes. In particular, Site U1532 revealed a sequence of Pliocene sediments with an excellent paleomagnetic record for high-resolution climate change studies of the previously sparsely sampled Pacific sector of the West Antarctic margin. Despite the drilling success at these sites, the overall expedition experienced three unexpected difficulties that affected many of the scientific objectives: 1. The extensive sea ice on the continental shelf prevented us from drilling any of the proposed shelf sites. 2. The drill sites on the continental rise were in the path of numerous icebergs of various sizes that frequently forced us to pause drilling or leave the hole entirely as they approached the ship. The overall downtime caused by approaching icebergs was 50% of our time spent on site. 3. A medical evacuation cut the expedition short by 1 week. Recovery of core on the continental rise at Sites U1532 and U1533 cannot be used to indicate the extent of grounded ice on the shelf or, thus, of its retreat directly. However, the sediments contained in these cores offer a range of clues about past WAIS extent and retreat. At Sites U1532 and U1533, coarse-grained sediments interpreted to be ice-rafted debris (IRD) were identified throughout all recovered time periods. A dominant feature of the cores is recorded by lithofacies cyclicity, which is interpreted to represent relatively warmer periods variably characterized by sediments with higher microfossil abundance, greater bioturbation, and higher IRD concentrations alternating with colder periods characterized by dominantly gray laminated terrigenous muds. Initial comparison of these cycles to published late Quaternary records from the region suggests that the units interpreted to be records of warmer time intervals in the core tie to global interglacial periods and the units interpreted to be deposits of colder periods tie to global glacial periods. Cores from the two drill sites recovered sediments of dominantly terrigenous origin intercalated or mixed with pelagic or hemipelagic deposits. In particular, Site U1533, which is located near a deep-sea channel originating from the continental slope, contains graded silts, sands, and gravels transported downslope from the shelf to the rise. The channel is likely the pathway of these sediments transported by turbidity currents and other gravitational downslope processes. The association of lithologic facies at both sites predominantly reflects the interplay of downslope and contouritic sediment supply with occasional input of more pelagic sediment. Despite the lack of cores from the shelf, our records from the continental rise reveal the timing of glacial advances across the shelf and thus the existence of a continent-wide ice sheet in West Antarctica during longer time periods since at least the late Miocene. Cores from both sites contain abundant coarse-grained sediments and clasts of plutonic origin transported either by downslope processes or by ice rafting. If detailed provenance studies confirm our preliminary assessment that the origin of these samples is from the plutonic bedrock of Marie Byrd Land, their thermochronological record will potentially reveal timing and rates of denudation and erosion linked to crustal uplift. The chronostratigraphy of both sites enables the generation of a seismic sequence stratigraphy for the entire Amundsen Sea continental rise, spanning the area offshore from the Amundsen Sea Embayment westward along the Marie Byrd Land margin to the easternmost Ross Sea through a connecting network of seismic lines.« less
  4. The Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica has long been considered the most vulnerable part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) because of the great water depth at the grounding line and the absence of substantial ice shelves. Glaciers in this configuration are thought to be susceptible to rapid or runaway retreat. Ice flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment is undergoing the most rapid changes of any sector of the Antarctic Ice Sheet outside the Antarctic Peninsula, including changes caused by substantial grounding-line retreat over recent decades, as observed from satellite data. Recent models suggest that a threshold leading to the collapse of WAIS in this sector may have been already crossed and that much of the ice sheet could be lost even under relatively moderate greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Drill cores from the Amundsen Sea provide tests of several key questions about controls on ice sheet stability. The cores offer a direct record of glacial history offshore from a drainage basin that receives ice exclusively from the WAIS, which allows clear comparisons between the WAIS history and low-latitude climate records. Today, warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) is impinging onto the Amundsen Sea shelf and causing melting of the undersidemore »of the WAIS in most places. Reconstructions of past CDW intrusions can assess the ties between warm water upwelling and large-scale changes in past grounding-line positions. Carrying out these reconstructions offshore from the drainage basin that currently has the most substantial negative mass balance of ice anywhere in Antarctica is thus of prime interest to future predictions. The scientific objectives for this expedition are built on hypotheses about WAIS dynamics and related paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic conditions. The main objectives are 1. To test the hypothesis that WAIS collapses occurred during the Neogene and Quaternary and, if so, when and under which environmental conditions; 2. To obtain ice-proximal records of ice sheet dynamics in the Amundsen Sea that correlate with global records of ice-volume changes and proxy records for atmospheric and ocean temperatures; 3. To study the stability of a marine-based WAIS margin and how warm deep-water incursions control its position on the shelf; 4. To find evidence for earliest major grounded WAIS advances onto the middle and outer shelf; 5. To test the hypothesis that the first major WAIS growth was related to the uplift of the Marie Byrd Land dome. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 completed two very successful drill sites on the continental rise of the Amundsen Sea. Site U1532 is located on a large sediment drift, now called Resolution Drift, and penetrated to 794 m with 90% recovery. We collected almost-continuous cores from the Pleistocene through the Pliocene and into the late Miocene. At Site U1533, we drilled 383 m (70% recovery) into the more condensed sequence at the lower flank of the same sediment drift. The cores of both sites contain unique records that will enable study of the cyclicity of ice sheet advance and retreat processes as well as bottom-water circulation and water mass changes. In particular, Site U1532 revealed a sequence of Pliocene sediments with an excellent paleomagnetic record for high-resolution climate change studies of the previously sparsely sampled Pacific sector of the West Antarctic margin. Despite the drilling success at these sites, the overall expedition experienced three unexpected difficulties that affected many of the scientific objectives: 1. The extensive sea ice on the continental shelf prevented us from drilling any of the proposed shelf sites. 2. The drill sites on the continental rise were in the path of numerous icebergs of various sizes that frequently forced us to pause drilling or leave the hole entirely as they approached the ship. The overall downtime caused by approaching icebergs was 50% of our time spent on site. 3. An unfortunate injury to a member of the ship's crew cut the expedition short by one week. Recovery of core on the continental rise at Sites U1532 and U1533 cannot be used to precisely indicate the position of ice or retreat of the ice sheet on the shelf. However, these sediments contained in the cores offer a range of clues about past WAIS extent and retreat. At Sites U1532 and U1533, coarse-grained sediments interpreted to be ice-rafted debris (IRD) were identified throughout all recovered time periods. A dominant feature of the cores is recorded by lithofacies cyclicity, which is interpreted to represent relatively warmer periods variably characterized by higher microfossil abundance, greater bioturbation, and higher counts of IRD alternating with colder periods characterized by dominantly gray laminated terrigenous muds. Initial comparison of these cycles to published records from the region suggests that the units interpreted as records of warmer time intervals in the core tie to interglacial periods and the units interpreted as deposits of colder periods tie to glacial periods. The cores from the two drill sites recovered sediments of purely terrigenous origin intercalated or mixed with pelagic or hemipelagic deposits. In particular, Site U1533, which is located near a deep-sea channel originating from the continental slope, contains graded sands and gravel transported downslope from the shelf to the abyssal plain. The channel is likely the path of such sediments transported downslope by turbidity currents or other sediment-gravity flows. The association of lithologic facies at both sites predominantly reflects the interplay of downslope and contouritic sediment supply with occasional input of more pelagic sediment. Despite the lack of cores from the shelf, our records from the continental rise reveal the timing of glacial advances across the shelf and thus the existence of a continent-wide ice sheet in West Antarctica at least during longer time periods since the late Miocene. Cores from both sites contain abundant coarse-grained sediments and clasts of plutonic origin transported either by downslope processes or by ice rafting. If detailed provenance studies confirm our preliminary assessment that the origin of these samples is from the plutonic bedrock of Marie Byrd Land, their thermochronological record will potentially reveal timing and rates of denudation and erosion linked to crustal uplift. The chronostratigraphy of both sites enables the generation of a seismic sequence stratigraphy not only for the Amundsen Sea rise but also for the western Amundsen Sea along the Marie Byrd Land margin through a connecting network of seismic lines.« less
  5. Hydrographic data are analyzed for the broad continental shelf of the Bellingshausen Sea, which is host to a number of rapidly thinning ice shelves. The flow of warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) onto the continental shelf is observed in the two major glacially carved troughs, the Belgica and Latady troughs. Using ship-based measurements of potential temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, collected across several coast-to-coast transects over the Bellingshausen shelf in 2007, the velocity and circulation patterns are inferred based on geostrophic balance and further constrained by the tracer and mass budgets. Meltwater was observed at the surface and at intermediate depth toward the western side of the continental shelf, collocated with inferred outflows. The maximum conversion rate from the dense CDW to lighter water masses by mixing with glacial meltwater is estimated to be 0.37 ± 0.1 Sv in both depth and potential density spaces. This diapycnal overturning is comparable to previous estimates made in the neighboring Amundsen Sea, highlighting the overlooked importance of water mass modification and meltwater production associated with glacial melting in the Bellingshausen Sea.