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An Analytical Derivation of Ice-Shelf Basal Melt Based on the Dynamics of Meltwater Plumes

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  • 1 Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
  • | 2 British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • | 4 Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, and Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
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Abstract

The interaction between ice shelves and the ocean is an important process for the development of marine ice sheets. However, it is difficult to model in full detail due to the high computational cost of coupled ice–ocean simulations, so that simplified basal-melt parameterizations are required. In this work, a new analytical expression for basal melt is derived from the theory of buoyant meltwater plumes moving upward under the ice shelf and driving the overturning circulation within the ice-shelf cavity. The governing equations are nondimensionalized in the case of an ice shelf with constant basal slope and uniform ambient ocean conditions. An asymptotic analysis of these equations in terms of small slopes and small thermal driving, assumed typical for Antarctic ice shelves, leads to an equation that can be solved analytically for the dimensionless melt rate. This analytical expression describes a universal melt-rate curve onto which the scaled results of the original plume model collapse. Its key features are a positive melt peak close to the grounding line and a transition to refreezing further away. Comparing the analytical expression with numerical solutions of the plume model generally shows a close agreement between the two, even for more general cases than the idealized geometry considered in the derivation. The results show how the melt rates adapt naturally to changes in the geometry and ambient ocean temperature. The new expression can readily be used for improving ice-sheet models that currently still lack a sufficiently realistic description of basal melt.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Roderik S. W. van de Wal, r.s.w.vandewal@uu.nl

Abstract

The interaction between ice shelves and the ocean is an important process for the development of marine ice sheets. However, it is difficult to model in full detail due to the high computational cost of coupled ice–ocean simulations, so that simplified basal-melt parameterizations are required. In this work, a new analytical expression for basal melt is derived from the theory of buoyant meltwater plumes moving upward under the ice shelf and driving the overturning circulation within the ice-shelf cavity. The governing equations are nondimensionalized in the case of an ice shelf with constant basal slope and uniform ambient ocean conditions. An asymptotic analysis of these equations in terms of small slopes and small thermal driving, assumed typical for Antarctic ice shelves, leads to an equation that can be solved analytically for the dimensionless melt rate. This analytical expression describes a universal melt-rate curve onto which the scaled results of the original plume model collapse. Its key features are a positive melt peak close to the grounding line and a transition to refreezing further away. Comparing the analytical expression with numerical solutions of the plume model generally shows a close agreement between the two, even for more general cases than the idealized geometry considered in the derivation. The results show how the melt rates adapt naturally to changes in the geometry and ambient ocean temperature. The new expression can readily be used for improving ice-sheet models that currently still lack a sufficiently realistic description of basal melt.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Roderik S. W. van de Wal, r.s.w.vandewal@uu.nl
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