Controls on Larsen C Ice Shelf Retreat From a 60-Year Satellite Data Record

Shujie Wang, Hongxing Liu, Kenneth Jezek, Richard B. Alley, Lei Wang, Patrick Alexander, Yan Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Rapid retreat of the Larsen A and B ice shelves has provided important clues about the ice shelf destabilization processes. The Larsen C Ice Shelf, the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, may also be vulnerable to future collapse in a warming climate. Here, we utilize multisource satellite images collected over 1963–2020 to derive multidecadal time series of ice front, flow velocities, and critical rift features over Larsen C, with the aim of understanding the controls on its retreat. We complement these observations with modeling experiments using the Ice-sheet and Sea-level System Model to examine how front geometry conditions and mechanical weakening due to rifts affect ice shelf dynamics. Over the past six decades, Larsen C lost over 20% of its area, dominated by rift-induced tabular iceberg calving. The Bawden Ice Rise and Gipps Ice Rise are critical areas for rift formation, through their impact on the longitudinal deviatoric stress field. Mechanical weakening around Gipps Ice Rise is found to be an important control on localized flow acceleration and the propagation of two rifts that caused a major calving event in 2017. Capturing the time-varying effects of rifts on ice rigidity in ice shelf models is essential for making realistic predictions of ice shelf flow dynamics and instability. In the context of the Larsen A and Larsen B collapses, we infer a chronology of destabilization processes for embayment-confined ice shelves, which provides a useful framework for understanding the historical and future destabilization of Antarctic ice shelves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JF006346
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Controls on Larsen C Ice Shelf Retreat From a 60-Year Satellite Data Record'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this