Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Contrasting the modelled sensitivity of the Amundsen Sea Embayment ice streams


Present-day mass loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet is centred on the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE), primarily through ice streams, including Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith glaciers. To understand the differences in response of these ice streams, we ran a perturbed parameter ensemble, using a vertically-integrated ice flow model with adaptive mesh refinement. We generated 71 sets of three physical parameters (basal traction coefficient, ice viscosity stiffening factor and sub-shelf melt rate), which we used to simulate the ASE for 50 years. We also explored the effects of different bed geometries and basal sliding laws. The mean rate of sea-level rise across the ensemble of simulations is comparable with current observed rates for the ASE. We found evidence that grounding line dynamics are sensitive to features in the bed geometry: simulations using BedMap2 geometry resulted in a higher rate of sea-level rise than simulations using a rougher geometry, created using mass conservation. Modelled grounding-line retreat of all the three ice streams was sensitive to viscosity and basal traction, while the melt rate was more important in Pine Island and Smith glaciers, which flow through more confined ice shelves than Thwaites, which has a relatively unconfined shelf.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Contrasting the modelled sensitivity of the Amundsen Sea Embayment ice streams
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Contrasting the modelled sensitivity of the Amundsen Sea Embayment ice streams
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Contrasting the modelled sensitivity of the Amundsen Sea Embayment ice streams
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Isabel J. Nias <>
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

SL Cornford and 8 others (2013) Adaptive mesh, finite volume modeling of marine ice sheets. J. Comput. Phys., 232, 529549 (doi: 10.1016/

SL Cornford and 14 others (2015) Century-scale simulations of the response of the West Antarctic ice sheet to a warming climate. Cryosphere, 9(4), 15791600 (doi: 10.5194/tc-9-1579-2015)

D Docquier , D Pollard and F Pattyn (2014) Thwaites Glacier grounding-line retreat: influence of width and buttressing parameterizations. J. Glaciol., 60, 305313 (doi: 10.3189/2014JoG13J117)

TK Dupont and RB Alley (2005) Assessment of the importance of ice-shelf buttressing to ice-sheet flow. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32 (doi: 10.1029/2004gl022024)

G Durand , O Gagliardini , L Favier , R Zwinger and E le Meur (2011) Impact of bedrock description on modeling ice sheet dynamics. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38 (doi: 10.1029/2011GL048892)

L Favier and 8 others (2014) Retreat of Pine Island Glacier controlled by marine ice-sheet instability. Nat. Clim. Change, 4, 17586798 (doi: 10.1038/nclimate2094)

T Flament and F Rémy (2012) Dynamic thinning of Antarctic glaciers from along-track repeat radar altimetry. J. Glaciol., 58, 830840 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J118)

P Fretwell and 59 others (2013) Bedmap2: improved ice bed, surface and thickness datasets for Antarctica. Cryosphere, 7, 375393 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-375-2013)

JW Holt and 8 others (2006) New boundary conditions for the West Antarctic ice sheet: subglacial topography of the Thwaites and Smith glacier catchments. Geophys. Res. Lett., 33 (doi: 10.1029/2005gl025561)

SS Jacobs , A Jenkins , CF Giulivi and P Dutrieux (2011) Stronger ocean circulation and increased melting under Pine Island Glacier ice shelf. Nat. Geosci., 4, 519523 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1188)

A Jenkins and 6 others (2010) Observations beneath Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica and implications for its retreat. Nat. Geosci., 3, 468472 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo890)

I Joughin and 6 others (2009) Basal conditions for Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, West Antarctica, determined using satellite and airborne data. J. Glaciol., 55, 245257 (doi: 10.3189/002214309788608705)

I Joughin , BE Smith and DM Holland (2010) Sensitivity of 21st century sea level to ocean-induced thinning of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37 (doi: 10.1029/2010gl044819)

I Joughin , BE Smith and B Medley (2014) Marine ice sheet collapse potentially under way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica. Science, 344, 735738 (doi: 10.1126/science.1249055)

DR MacAyeal (1992) The basal stress distribution of Ice Stream E, Antarctica, inferred by control methods. J. Geophys. Res.: Solid Earth, 97, 595603 (doi: 10.1029/91JB02454)

JA MacGregor , GA Catania , MS Markowski and AG Andrews (2012) Widespread rifting and retreat of ice-shelf margins in the eastern Amundsen Sea Embayment between 1972 and 2011. J. Glaciol., 58, 458466 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J262)

M McMillan and 7 others (2014) Increased ice losses from Antarctica detected by CryoSat-2. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 38993905 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL060111)

B Medley and 14 others (2014) Constraining the recent mass balance of Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica, with airborne observations of snow accumulation. Cryosphere, 8(4), 13751392 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1375-2014)

M Morlighem and 5 others (2010) Spatial patterns of basal drag inferred using control methods from a full-stokes and simpler models for Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37 (doi: 10.1029/2010GL043853)

M Morlighem and 5 others (2011) A mass conservation approach for mapping glacier ice thickness. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38 (doi: 10.1029/2011GL048659)

M Morlighem , E Rignot , J Mouginot , H Seroussi and E Larour (2014) High-resolution ice-thickness mapping in South Greenland. Ann. Glaciol., 55 (doi: 10.3189/2014AoG67A088)

J Mouginot , E Rignot and B Scheuchl (2014) Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 15761584 (doi: 10.1002/2013gl059069)

FS Paolo , HA Fricker and L Padman (2015) Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating. Science, 348(6232), 327331 (doi: 10.1126/science.aaa0940)

BR Parizek and 10 others (2013) Dynamic (in)stability of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118, 638655 (doi: 10.1002/jgrf.20044)

JW Park and 5 others (2013) Sustained retreat of the Pine Island Glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 21372142 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50379)

F Pattyn (2010) Antarctic subglacial conditions inferred from a hybrid ice sheet/ice stream model. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 295, 451461 (doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.04.025)

F Pattyn and 27 others (2013) Grounding-line migration in plan-view marine ice-sheet models: results of the ice2sea MISMIP3d intercomparison. J. Glaciol., 59, 410422 (doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J129)

AJ Payne (2004) Recent dramatic thinning of largest West Antarctic ice stream triggered by oceans. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31 (doi: 10.1029/2004gl021284)

AJ Payne and 5 others (2007) Numerical modeling of ocean-ice interactions under Pine Island Bay's ice shelf. J. Geophys. Res., 112 (doi: 10.1029/2006jc003733)

HD Pritchard , RJ Arthern , DG Vaughan and LA Edwards (2009) Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461, 971975 (doi: 10.1038/nature08471)

HD Pritchard and 5 others (2012) Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature, 484, 502505 (doi: 10.1038/nature10968)

E Rignot (2008) Changes in West Antarctic ice stream dynamics observed with ALOS PALSAR data. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35 (doi: 10.1029/2008gl033365)

E Rignot , J Mouginot and B Scheuchl (2011) Ice flow of the Antarctic ice sheet. Science, 333, 14271430 (doi: 10.1126/science.1208336)

E Rignot , J Mouginot , M Morlighem , H Seroussi and B Scheuchl (2014) Widespread, rapid grounding line retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, and Kohler glaciers, West Antarctica, from 1992 to 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(10), 35023509 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL060140)

M Schmeltz , E Rignot and DR MacAyeal (2001) Ephemeral grounding as a signal of ice-shelf change. J. Glaciol., 47, 7177 (doi: 10.3189/172756501781832502)

C Schoof (2007) Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: steady states, stability, and hysteresis. J. Geophys. Res., 112 (doi: 10.1029/2006jf000664)

C Schoof and RC Hindmarsh (2010) Thin-film flows with wall slip: an asymptotic analysis of higher order glacier flow models. Quar. J. Mech. Appl. Math., 63, 73114 (doi: 10.1093/qjmam/hbp025)

H Seroussi and 6 others (2014) Sensitivity of the dynamics of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, to climate forcing for the next 50 years. Cryosphere, 8(5), 16991710 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1699-2014)

A Shepherd (2004) Warm ocean is eroding West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31 (doi: 10.1029/2004gl021106)

A Shepherd and D Wingham (2007) Recent sea-level contributions of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Science, 315, 15291532 (doi: 10.1126/science.1136776)

S Sun , SL Cornford , Y Liu and JC Moore (2014) Dynamic response of Antarctic ice shelves to bedrock uncertainty. Cryosphere, 8(4), 15611576 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1561-2014)

KJ Tinto and RE Bell (2011) Progressive unpinning of Thwaites Glacier from newly identified offshore ridge: constraints from aerogravity. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38 (doi: 10.1029/2011gl049026)

DG Vaughan and 9 others (2006) New boundary conditions for the West Antarctic ice sheet: subglacial topography beneath Pine Island Glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 33 (doi: 10.1029/2005gl025588)

DJ Wingham , DW Wallis and A Shepherd (2009) Spatial and temporal evolution of Pine Island Glacier thinning, 1995–2006. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36 (doi: 10.1029/2009gl039126)

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 13
Total number of PDF views: 86 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 190 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th April 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.