, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 1-11
Date: 10 May 2006

Ocean/ice shelf interaction in the southern Weddell Sea: results of a regional numerical helium/neon simulation

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Ocean/ice interaction at the base of deep-drafted Antarctic ice shelves modifies the physical properties of inflowing shelf waters to become Ice Shelf Water (ISW). In contrast to the conditions at the atmosphere/ocean interface, the increased hydrostatic pressure at the glacial base causes gases embedded in the ice to dissolve completely after being released by melting. Helium and neon, with an extremely low solubility, are saturated in glacial meltwater by more than 1000%. At the continental slope in front of the large Antarctic caverns, ISW mixes with ambient waters to form different precursors of Antarctic Bottom Water. A regional ocean circulation model, which uses an explicit formulation of the ocean/ice shelf interaction to describe for the first time the input of noble gases to the Southern Ocean, is presented. The results reveal a long-term variability of the basal mass loss solely controlled by the interaction between waters of the continental shelf and the ice shelf cavern. Modeled helium and neon supersaturations from the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf front show a “low-pass” filtering of the inflowing signal due to cavern processes. On circumpolar scales, the simulated helium and neon distributions allow us to quantify the ISW contribution to bottom water, which spreads with the coastal current connecting the major formation sites in Ross and Weddell Seas.

Responsible editor: John Wilkin