Skip to main content Accessibility help

Surface structure and stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula

  • N.F. Glasser (a1), B. Kulessa (a2), A. Luckman (a2), D. Jansen (a2), E.C. King (a3), P.R. Sammonds (a4), T.A. Scambos (a5) and K.C. Jezek (a6)...


A structural glaciological description and analysis of surface morphological features of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, is derived from satellite images spanning the period 1963–2007. The data are evaluated in two time ranges: a comparison of a 1963 satellite image photomosaic with a modern digital mosaic compiled using 2003/04 austral summer data; and an image series since 2003 showing recent evolution of the shelf. We map the ice-shelf edge, rift swarms, crevasses and crevasse traces, and linear longitudinal structures (called ‘flow stripes’ or ‘streak lines’). The latter are observed to be continuous over distances of up to 200 km from the grounding line to the ice-shelf edge, with little evidence of changes in pattern over that distance. Integrated velocity measurements along a flowline indicate that the shelf has been stable for ∼560 years in the mid-shelf area. Linear longitudinal features may be grouped into 12 units, each related to one or a small group of outlet feeder glaciers to the shelf. We observe that the boundaries between these flow units often mark rift terminations. The boundary zones originate upstream at capes, islands or other suture areas between outlet glaciers. In agreement with previous work, our findings imply that rift terminations within such suture zones indicate that they contain anomalously soft ice. We thus suggest that suture zones within the Larsen C ice shelf, and perhaps within ice shelves more generally, may act to stabilize them by reducing regional stress intensities and thus rates of rift lengthening.

  • 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. 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.

      Surface structure and stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula
      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 <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Surface structure and stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula
      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 <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Surface structure and stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula
      Available formats



Hide All
Bamber, J.L. and Bentley, C.R.. 1994. A comparison of satellite-altimetry and ice-thickness measurements of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 20, 357364.
Bassis, J.N., Coleman, R., Fricker, H.A. and Minster, J.B.. 2005. Episodic propagation of a rift on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(6), L06502. (10.1029/ 2004GL022048.)
Bassis, J.N. and 7 others. 2007. Seismicity and deformation associated with ice-shelf rift propagation. J. Glaciol., 53(183), 523536.
Bassis, J.N., Fricker, H.A., Coleman, R. and Minster, J.-B.. 2008. An investigation into the forces that drive ice-shelf rift propagation on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 54(184), 1727.
Bentley, C.R., Clough, J.W., Jezek, K.C. and Shabtaie, S.. 1979. Ice-thickness patterns and the dynamics of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 24(90), 287294.
Bindschadler, R. and Seider, W.. 1998. Declassified intelligence satellite photography (DISP) coverage of Antarctica. NASA Tech. Mem. 1998-206879.
Bindschadler, R. and Vornberger, P.. 1998. Changes in the West Antarctic ice sheet since 1963 from declassified satellite photography. Science, 279(5351), 689692.
Bindschadler, R., Scambos, T., Rott, H., Skvarca, P. and Vornberger, P.. 2002. Ice dolines on Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 34, 283290.
Bombosch, A. and Jenkins, A.. 1995. Modeling the formation and deposition of frazil ice beneath Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf. J. Geophys. Res., 100(C4), 69836992.
Braun, M., Humbert, A. and Moll, A.. 2008. Changes of Wilkins Ice Shelf over the past 15 years and inferences on its stability. Cryos. Discuss., 2(3), 341382.
Casassa, G. and Brecher, H.H.. 1993. Relief and decay of flow stripes on Byrd Glacier, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 17, 255261.
Casassa, G. and Whillans, I.M.. 1994. Decay of surface topography on the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 20, 249253.
Copland, L., Mueller, D.R. and Weir, L.. 2007. Rapid loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf, Ellesmere Island, Canada. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34(21), L21501. (10.1029/2007GL031809.)
Crabtree, R.D. and Doake, C.S.M.. 1980. Flow lines on Antarctic ice shelves. Polar Rec., 20(124), 3137.
De Angelis, H. and Skvarca, P.. 2003. Glacier surge after ice shelf collapse. Science, 299(5612), 15601562.
Doake, C.S.M. and Vaughan, D.G.. 1991. Rapid disintegration of the Wordie Ice Shelf in response to atmospheric warming. Nature, 350(6316), 328330.
Domack, E. and 9 others. 2005. Stability of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene epoch. Nature, 436(7051), 681685.
Drewry, D.J., Jordan, S.R. and Jankowski, E.. 1982. Measured properties of the Antarctic ice sheet: surface configuration, ice thickness, volume and bedrock characteristics. Ann. Glaciol., 3, 8391.
Dupont, T.K. and Alley, R.B.. 2005. Assessment of the importance of ice-shelf buttressing to ice-sheet flow. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(4), L04503. (10.1029/2004GL022024.)
Engelhardt, H. and Determann, J.. 1987. Borehole evidence for a thick layer of basal ice in the central Ronne Ice Shelf. Nature, 327(6120), 318319.
Evans, J. and Cofaigh, C. Ó. 2003. Supraglacial debris along the front of the Larsen-A Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Antarct. Sci., 15(4), 503506.
Fahnestock, M.A., Scambos, T.A., Bindschadler, R.A. and Kvaran, G.. 2000. A millennium of variable ice flow recorded by the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 46(155), 652664.
Fricker, H.A., Popov, S., Allison, I. and Young, N.. 2001. Distribution of marine ice under the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 28(11), 22412244.
Fricker, H.A., Young, N.W., Allison, I. and Coleman, R.. 2002. Iceberg calving from the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 34, 241246.
Fricker, H.A., Young, N.W., Coleman, R., Bassis, J.N. and Minster, J.B.. 2005. Multi-year monitoring of rift propagation on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(2), L02502. (10.1029/2004GL021036.)
Glasser, N.F. and Scambos, T.A.. 2008. A structural glaciological analysis of the 2002 Larsen B ice-shelf collapse. J. Glaciol., 54(184), 316.
Hambrey, M.J. 1977. Foliation, minor folds and strain in glacier ice. Tectonophysics, 39(1–3), 397416.
Hambrey, M.J. and Dowdeswell, J.A.. 1994. Flow regime of the Lambert Glacier–Amery Ice Shelf system, Antarctica: structural evidence from Landsat imagery. Ann. Glaciol., 20, 401406.
Hambrey, M.J. and Glasser, N.F.. 2003. The role of folding and foliation development in the genesis of medial moraines: examples from Svalbard glaciers. J. Geol., 111(4), 471485.
Hooke, R.LeB. and Hudleston, P.J.. 1978. Origin of foliation in glaciers. J. Glaciol., 20(83), 285299.
Jezek, K.C. 2002. RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project: change-detection and surface velocity campaign. Ann. Glaciol., 34, 263268.
Jezek, K.C. and Liu, H.X.. 2005. Structure of southeastern Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves and ice tongues from synthetic aperture radar imagery. J. Glaciol., 51(174), 373376.
Joughin, I. and MacAyeal, D.R.. 2005. Calving of large tabular icebergs from ice shelf rift systems. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(2), L02501. (10.1029/2004GL020978.)
Joughin, I. and Vaughan, D.G.. 2004. Marine ice beneath the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica: a comparison of estimated thickness distributions. Ann. Glaciol., 39, 511517.
Kim, K., Jezek, K.C. and Liu, H.. 2007. Orthorectified image mosaic of Antarctica from 1963 Argon satellite photography: image processing and glaciological applications. Int. J. Remote Sens., 28(23), 53575373.
Larour, E., Rignot, E. and Aubry, D.. 2004. Processes involved in the propagation of rifts near Hemmen Ice Rise, Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 50(170), 329341.
Larour, E., Rignot, E., Joughin, I. and Aubry, D.. 2005. Rheology of the Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica, inferred from satellite radar interferometry data using an inverse control method. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(5), L05503. (10.1029/2004GL021693.)
MacAyeal, D.R., Scambos, T.A., Hulbe, C.L. and Fahnestock, M.A.. 2003. Catastrophic ice-shelf break-up by an ice-shelf-fragment-capsize mechanism. J. Glaciol., 49(164), 2236.
Merry, C.J. and Whillans, I.M.. 1993. Ice-flow features on Ice Stream B, Antarctica, revealed by SPOT HRV imagery. J. Glaciol., 39(133), 515527.
Nicholls, K.W., Pudsey, C.J. and Morris, P.. 2004. Summertime water masses off the northern Larsen C Ice Shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(9), L09309. (10.1029/2004GL019924.)
Pritchard, H.D. and Vaughan, D.G.. 2007. Widespread acceleration of tidewater glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F3), F03S29. (10.1029/2006JF000597.)
Rack, W. and Rott, H.. 2004. Pattern of retreat and disintegration of the Larsen B ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Ann. Glaciol., 39, 505510.
Reynolds, J.M. and Hambrey, M.J.. 1988. The structural glaciology of George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Br. Antarct. Surv. Bull. 79, 7995.
Rignot, E., Casassa, G., Gogineni, P., Krabill, W., Rivera, A. and Thomas, R.. 2004. Accelerated ice discharge from the Antarctic Peninsula following the collapse of Larsen B ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(18), L18401. (10.1029/2004GL020697.)
Rist, M.A. and 6 others. 1999. Experimental and theoretical fracture mechanics applied to Antarctic ice fracture and surface crevassing. J. Geophys. Res., 104(B2), 29732987.
Rist, M.A., Sammonds, P.R., Oerter, H. and Doake, C.S.M.. 2002. Fracture of Antarctic shelf ice. J. Geophys. Res., 107(B1), 2002. (10.1029/2000JB000058.)
Rommelaere, V. and MacAyeal, D. R.. 1997. Large-scale rheology of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, computed by a control method. Ann. Glaciol., 24, 4348.
Rott, H., Skvarca, P. and Nagler, T.. 1996. Rapid collapse of northern Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Science, 271(5250), 788792.
Rott, H., Rack, W., Nagler, T. and Skvarca, P.. 1998. Climatically induced retreat and collapse of northern Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Ann. Glaciol., 27, 8692.
Scambos, T.A., Hulbe, C., Fahnestock, M. and Bohlander, J.. 2000. The link between climate warming and break-up of ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula. J. Glaciol., 46(154), 516530.
Scambos, T., Hulbe, C. and Fahnestock, M.. 2003. Climate-induced ice shelf disintegration in the Antarctic Peninsula. In Domack, E.W., Burnett, A., Leventer, A., Conley, P., Kirby, M. and Bindschadler, R., eds. Antarctic Peninsula climate variability: a historical and paleoenvironmental perspective. Washington, DC, American Geophysical Union, 7992. (Antarctic Research Series 79.)
Scambos, T.A., Bohlander, J.A., Shuman, C.A. and Skvarca, P.. 2004. Glacier acceleration and thinning after ice shelf collapse in the Larsen B embayment, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(18), L18402. (10.1029/2004GL020670.)
Scambos, T.A., Haran, T.M., Fahnestock, M.A., Painter, T.H. and Bohlander, J.. 2007. MODIS-based Mosaic of Antarctica (MOA) data sets: continent-wide surface morphology and snow grain size. Remote Sens. Environ., 111(2–3), 242257.
Shepherd, A., Wingham, D., Payne, T. and Skvarca, P.. 2003. Larsen ice shelf has progressively thinned. Science, 302(5646), 856859.
Skvarca, P. 1993. Fast recession of the northern Larsen Ice Shelf monitored by space images. Ann. Glaciol., 17, 317321.
Skvarca, P. 1994. Changes and surface features of the Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica, derived from Landsat and Kosmos mosaics. Ann. Glaciol., 20, 612.
Smith, J.A., Bentley, M.J., Hodgson, D.A. and Cook, A.J.. 2007. George VI Ice Shelf: past history, present behaviour and potential mechanisms for future collapse. Antarct. Sci., 19(1), 131142.
Swithinbank, C., Brunk, K. and Sievers, J.. 1988. A glaciological map of Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 11, 150155.
Thomas, R.H., Sanderson, T.J.O. and Rose, K.E.. 1979. Effect of climatic warming on the West Antarctic ice sheet. Nature, 277(5695), 355358.
Van den Broeke, M. 2005. Strong surface melting preceded collapse of Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(12), L12815. (10.1029/2005GL023247.)
Van der Veen, C.J. 1998. Fracture mechanics approach to penetration of bottom crevasses on glaciers. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 27(3), 213223.
Vaughan, D.G. 1993. Relating the occurrence of crevasses to surface strain rates. J. Glaciol., 39(132), 255266.
Vaughan, D.G. and Doake, C.S.M.. 1996. Recent atmospheric warming and retreat of ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature, 379(6563), 328331.
Vieli, A., Payne, A.J., Du, Z. and Shepherd, A.. 2006. Numerical modelling and data assimilation of the Larsen B ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London, Ser. A, 364(1844), 18151839.
Weiss, J. 2004. Subcritical crack propagation as a mechanism of crevasse formation and iceberg calving. J. Glaciol., 50(168), 109115.
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: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed