Swell-triggered seismicity at the near-front damage zone of the ross ice shelf

Richard C. Aster, Bradley P. Lipovsky, Hank M. Cole, Peter D. Bromirski, Peter Gerstoft, Andrew Nyblade, Douglas A. Wiens, Ralph Stephen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Ocean swell interacting with Antarctic ice shelves produces sustained (approximately, 2×106 cycles per year) gravity-elastic perturbations with deformation amplitudes near the ice front as large as tens to hundreds of nanostrain. This process is the most energetically excited during the austral summer, when sea ice-induced swell attenuation is at a minimum. A 2014-2017 deployment of broadband seismographs on the Ross Ice shelf, which included three stations sited, approximately, 2 km from the ice front, reveals prolific swell-associated triggering of discrete near-ice-front (magnitude≥0) seismic subevents, for which we identify three generic types. During some strong swell episodes, subevent timing becomes sufficiently phase-locked with swell excitation, to create prominent harmonic features in spectra calculated across sufficiently lengthy time windows via a Dirac comb effect, for which we articulate a theoretical development for randomized interevent times. These events are observable at near-front stations, have dominant frequency content between 0.5 and 20 Hz, and, in many cases, show highly repetitive waveforms. Matched filtering detection and analysis shows that events occur at a low-background rate during all swell states, but become particularly strongly excited during large amplitude swell at rates of up to many thousands per day. The superimposed elastic energy from swell-triggered sources illuminates the shelf interior as extensional (elastic plate) Lamb waves that are observable more than 100 km from the ice edge. Seismic swarms show threshold excitation and hysteresis with respect to rising and falling swell excitation. This behavior is consistent with repeated seismogenic fracture excitation and growth within a near-ice-front damage zone, encompassing fracture features seen in satellite imagery. A much smaller population of distinctly larger near-front seismic events, previously noted to be weakly associated with extended periods of swell perturbation, likely indicate calving or other larger-scale ice failures near the shelf front.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2768-2792
Number of pages25
JournalSeismological Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics


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