GPS-derived estimates of surface mass balance and ocean-induced basal melt for Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, Antarctica

David E. Shean, Knut Christianson, Kristine M. Larson, Stefan R.M. Ligtenberg, Ian R. Joughin, Ben E. Smith, C. Max Stevens, Mitchell Bushuk, David M. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the last 2 decades, Pine Island Glacier (PIG) experienced marked speedup, thinning, and grounding-line retreat, likely due to marine ice-sheet instability and ice-shelf basal melt. To better understand these processes, we combined 2008-2010 and 2012-2014 GPS records with dynamic firn model output to constrain local surface and basal mass balance for PIG. We used GPS interferometric reflectometry to precisely measure absolute surface elevation (Zsurf) and Lagrangian surface elevation change (DZsurf/Dt). Observed surface elevation relative to a firn layer tracer for the initial surface (Zsurf-Zsurf()') is consistent with model estimates of surface mass balance (SMB, primarily snow accumulation). A relatively abrupt ĝ1/4 ĝ0.2-0.3ĝm surface elevation decrease, likely due to surface melt and increased compaction rates, is observed during a period of warm atmospheric temperatures from December 2012 to January 2013. Observed DZsurf/Dt trends (-1 to -4 m yr-1) for the PIG shelf sites are all highly linear. Corresponding basal melt rate estimates range from ∼ 10 to 40m yr-1, in good agreement with those derived from ice-bottom acoustic ranging, phase-sensitive ice-penetrating radar, and high-resolution stereo digital elevation model (DEM) records. The GPS and DEM records document higher melt rates within and near features associated with longitudinal extension (i.e., transverse surface depressions, rifts). Basal melt rates for the 2012-2014 period show limited temporal variability despite large changes in ocean temperature recorded by moorings in Pine Island Bay. Our results demonstrate the value of long-term GPS records for ice-shelf mass balance studies, with implications for the sensitivity of ice-ocean interaction at PIG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2655-2674
Number of pages20
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 21 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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