Changing distributions of sea ice melt and meteoric water west of the Antarctic Peninsula

Michael P. Meredith, Sharon E. Stammerjohn, Hugh J. Venables, Hugh W. Ducklow, Douglas G. Martinson, Richard A. Iannuzzi, Melanie J. Leng, Jan Melchior Van Wessem, Carleen H. Reijmer, Nicholas E. Barrand

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The Western Antarctic Peninsula has recently undergone rapid climatic warming, with associated decreases in sea ice extent and duration, and increases in precipitation and glacial discharge to the ocean. These shifts in the freshwater budget can have significant consequences on the functioning of the regional ecosystem, feedbacks on regional climate, and sea-level rise. Here we use shelf-wide oxygen isotope data from cruises in four consecutive Januaries (2011–2014) to distinguish the freshwater input from sea ice melt separately from that due to meteoric sources (precipitation plus glacial discharge). Sea ice melt distributions varied from minima in 2011 of around 0 % up to maxima in 2014 of around 4–5%. Meteoric water contribution to the marine environment is typically elevated inshore, due to local glacial discharge and orographic effects on precipitation, but this enhanced contribution was largely absent in January 2013 due to anomalously low precipitation in the last quarter of 2012. Both sea ice melt and meteoric water changes are seen to be strongly influenced by changes in regional wind forcing associated with the Southern Annular Mode and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon, which also impact on net sea ice motion as inferred from the isotope data. A near-coastal time series of isotope data collected from Rothera Research Station reproduces well the temporal pattern of changes in sea ice melt, but less well the meteoric water changes, due to local glacial inputs and precipitation effects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDeep-Sea Research. Part 2: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Early online date3 May 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 May 2016


  • Ocean–ice–atmosphere system
  • Meltwater
  • Ocean circulation
  • Sea ice
  • West Antarctic Peninsula


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