Related Research Areas
Water & Energy Cycles

While the likelihood of a complete meltdown of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) remains highly uncertain, its large size and dynamic behavior ensures that even small changes in ice sheet mass balance and ice flow will strongly affect future sea level and land-ocean freshwater fluxes. The adjacent marine cryosphere is also undergoing dramatic change, with recent shifts in Southern Ocean sea ice cover impacting ocean-atmosphere energy fluxes, ocean circulation and marine biological productivity. Our ability to predict future changes in ice sheet mass balance and sea level rise; changes in freshwater fluxes between the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Southern Ocean; and ocean circulation and marine biogeochemistry even over the next 100 years is severely limited not only by the large natural variability of polar climate, but by a lack of understanding of how the components of the polar cryosphere (particularly ice sheets and sea ice) interact with one other, as well as how they will respond to this climate variability. We are proposing a multi-disciplinary effort to broadly understand surface changes in the cryosphere of West Antarctica, with a targeted research project focused on recently observed change in the climatically sensitive region surrounding the Amundsen Sea sector of the WAIS. This sector is one of the most rapidly changing and least well understood of all the polar regions, where some of the fastest flowing glaciers are contributing an increasing amount of freshwater to the ocean. Our work uses an interdisciplinary approach merging multiple-platform space-based remote sensing data from the last 10-30 years, with ground-based observations from new chemical and physical measurements of glaciological samples. We will combine AVHRR and MODIS observations of sea surface temperature, passive microwave (SMMR, SSM/I, AMSR-E) observations of sea ice concentrations and sea- and land-ice melt/freeze, ocean color (MODIS, SeaWIFS, and MERIS) observations of chlorophyll biomass and primary productivity, and radar scatterometer (ERS and QuikSCAT) observations of ice sheet and sea ice surface melt to examine coupled changes across the Amundsen Sea region. Finally, although satellite records can be utilized to investigate these types of relationships in the recent past, correlation of these space-based observations with chemical and physical records in the adjacent ice sheet will allow us to temporally extrapolate our knowledge of these relationships (e.g. between sea-ice cover, primary productivity and ice sheet conditions) backwards well beyond the satellite record. This proposed work cuts across traditional disciplines of oceanography, biology, and glaciology and will exploit the latest observations from high-resolution earth-orbiting sensors. Our overlapping satellite and ground-based observations and analyses to investigate sea-ice variability (concentration, and the timing of melt onset, breakup, and freeze), sea-surface variability (sea surface temperature (SST), surface water chlorophyll biomass and primary productivity) and ice-sheet variability (accumulation, surface melting, and ice sheet temperature) will allow us to test our hypotheses and answer two over-arching research questions: (1)How do sea-ice variability and sea-surface variability influence one other, and influence ice-sheet surface variability? (2)How are changes in sea-ice and sea-surface conditions recorded in the ice sheet stratigraphy and what is the temporal and spatial stability of these records? Our efforts to understand the most recent decade of change in the cryosphere "from land to sea" in a targeted, climatically sensitive, and rapidly changing area along the Amundsen Coast of West Antarctica will provide an important step in developing a greater understanding of the sensitivity of the entire polar region to past and future climate change.

Project PI: Sarah Das/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Woods Hole, MA 02543

Phone: (508) 289-2464



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Started: Sep 29, 2010

Last Activity: Jan 04, 2011


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