Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 141–153 | Cite as

A box model of circulation and melting in ice shelf caverns

  • Dirk OlbersEmail author
  • Hartmut Hellmer


A simple box model of the circulation into and inside the ocean cavern beneath an ice shelf is used to estimate the melt rates of Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves. The model uses simplified cavern geometries and includes a coarse parameterization of the overturning circulation and vertical mixing. The melting/freezing physics at the ice shelf/ocean interface are those usually implemented in high-resolution circulation models of ice shelf caverns. The model is driven by the thermohaline inflow conditions and coupling to the heat and freshwater exchanges at the sea surface in front of the cavern. We tune the model for Pine Island Glacier and then apply it to six other major caverns. The dependence of the melting rate on thermohaline conditions at the ice shelf front is investigated for this set of caverns, including sensitivity studies, alternative parameterizations, and warming scenarios. An analytical relation between the melting rate and the inflow temperature is derived for a particular model version, showing a quadratic dependence of basal melting on small values of the temperature of the inflow, which changes to a linear dependence for larger values. The model predicts melting at all ice shelf bases in agreement with observations, ranging from below a meter per year for Ronne Ice Shelf to about 25 m/year for the Pine Island Glacier. In a warming scenario with a one-degree increase of the inflow temperature, the latter glacier responds with a 1.4-fold increase of the melting rate. Other caverns respond by more than a tenfold increase, as, e.g., Ronne Ice Shelf. The model is suitable for use as a simple fast module izn coarse large-scale ocean models.


Antarctic ice shelves Melt rate Box model 



We appreciate the very useful comments and critiques of Adrian Jenkins.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany

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