A discovery made by scientists says that ocean water warmed by the sun is melting part of the world’s largest ice shelf 10 times faster than the overall average. The north-west sector of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, which in total is roughly the size of France, is melting far faster than scientists previously thought, according to a press release from the University of Cambridge.
The researchers used Ross Ice Shelf to examine the oceanographic processes that drive basal ablation of the world’s largest ice shelf. The research shows that basal melt rates beneath a thin and structurally important part of the shelf are an order of magnitude higher than the shelf-wide average.
This melting is strongly influenced by a seasonal inflow of sun heated surface water from the adjacent Ross Sea Polynya that flows into the ice shelf cavity, which is tripling basal melt rates during summer.
Melting driven by this frequently overlooked process is expected to increase with predicted surface warming. It is inferred that solar heat absorbed in ice-front polynyas can make an important contribution to the present-day mass balance of ice shelves, and potentially impact their future stability.