Over the past two decades the primary driver of mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been warm ocean water underneath coastal ice shelves, not a warmer atmosphere. Yet, surface melt occurs sporadically over low-lying areas of the WAIS and is not fully understood. Here we report on an episode of extensive and prolonged surface melting observed in the Ross Sea sector of the WAIS in January 2016. A comprehensive cloud and radiation experiment at the WAIS ice divide, downwind of the melt region, provided detailed insight into the physical processes at play during the event. The unusual extent and duration of the melting are linked to strong and sustained advection of warm marine air toward the area, likely favoured by the concurrent strong El Niño event. The increase in the number of extreme El Niño events projected for the twenty-first century could expose the WAIS to more frequent major melt events.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)