Persistent Ross Sea Freshening from Imbalance West Antarctic Ice Shelf Melting

Jacobs, Stanley; Giulivi, Claudia; Dutrieux, Pierre

A 63-year observational record in the southwest Ross Sea shows a continuing, near-linear salinity decrease of 0.170 and slight warming of 0.013°C through 2020. That freshening exceeded any increase in sea ice production and brine release from stronger southerly winds, while melting and freezing at the Ross Ice Shelf base contributed little to the salinity change. The parallel seawater density decline appears not to have enhanced warm deep water intrusions onto the continental shelf (CS). Confirming prior inferences, the salinity change has been mainly caused by a growing imbalance in the meltwater available from thinning ice shelves and increased iceberg calving in the upstream Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas. Shorter-term salinity
variability has tracked winds near the Amundsen Sea CS break, in turn coherent with a broader Pacific climate
variability index, and with salinity reversals on and seaward of the Ross CS. The melt driven freshening is positively correlated with global atmospheric CO2 and temperature increases, and adds to the rise in sea level from increased glacier flow into weakened ice shelves. Continued erosion of those ice shelves could end the production of high salinity shelf and bottom waters, as defined in the Ross Sea, by the 2050s.

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
May 2, 2022