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Iceberg-induced changes to polynya operation and regional oceanography in the southern Ross Sea, Antarctica, from in situ observations

  • N.J. Robinson (a1) (a2) and M.J.M. Williams (a1)

Two massive tabular icebergs calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 (B-15) and 2002 (C-19) and perturbed regional ocean processes for several years. Here we document the ocean's response in McMurdo Sound to the icebergs using in situ data collected before, during and after the icebergs’ residence in the Ross Sea. Departures from typical McMurdo Sound seasonal oceanography included the non-appearance of Antarctic Surface Water in summer, a cooler and more homogeneous water column during winter and ‘super-fresh’ High Salinity Shelf Water that gradually recovered its salinity. We found that each iceberg triggered a distinct response to regional ocean processes. B-15a, the largest piece of iceberg B-15, restricted surface circulation, cooled and freshened the upper water column and reduced melting near the ice shelf front for four years. Iceberg C-19 interrupted the operation of the Ross Sea polynya, from which McMurdo Sound took three to four years to recover, and was responsible for a geographic shift in the dense water formation region for the south-western Ross Sea. These results differ from earlier modelling studies and highlight the challenges of modelling the polar ocean. We also show that one pathway previously thought to supply dense water to the Ross Ice Shelf cavity was not operating at that time.

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Antarctic Science
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