The instantaneous impact of calving and thinning on the Larsen C Ice Shelf

Tom Mitcham*, G. Hilmar Gudmundsson, Jonathan L. Bamber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


The Antarctic Peninsula has seen rapid and widespread changes in the extent of its ice shelves in recent decades, including the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves in 1995 and 2002, respectively. In 2017 the Larsen C Ice Shelf (LCIS) lost around 10 % of its area by calving one of the largest icebergs ever recorded (A68). This has raised questions about the structural integrity of the shelf and the impact of any changes in its extent on the flow of its tributary glaciers. In this work, we used an ice flow model to study the instantaneous impact of changes in the thickness and extent of the LCIS on ice dynamics and in particular on changes in the grounding line flux (GLF). We initialised the model to a pre-A68 calving state and first replicated the calving of the A68 iceberg. We found that there was a limited instantaneous impact on upstream flow – with speeds increasing by less than 10 % across almost all of the shelf – and a 0.28 % increase in GLF. This result is supported by observations of ice velocity made before and after the calving event. We then perturbed the ice-shelf geometry through a series of instantaneous, idealised calving and thinning experiments of increasing magnitude. We found that significant changes to the geometry of the ice shelf, through both calving and thinning, resulted in limited instantaneous changes in GLF. For example, to produce a doubling of GLF from calving, the new calving front needed to be moved to 5 km from the grounding line, removing almost the entire ice shelf. For thinning, over 200 m of the ice-shelf thickness had to be removed across the whole shelf to produce a doubling of GLF. Calculating the instantaneous increase in GLF (607 %) after removing the entire ice shelf allowed us to quantify the total amount of buttressing provided by the LCIS. From this, we identified that the region of the ice shelf in the first 5 km downstream of the grounding line provided over 80 % of the buttressing capacity of the shelf. This is due to the large resistive stresses generated in the narrow, local embayments downstream of the largest tributary glaciers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-901
Number of pages19
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. Tom Mitcham is supported by a GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership studentship from the Natural Environment Research Council. We thank Jan Wuite at ENVEO for providing the monthly observations of Antarctic ice velocity.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Tom Mitcham et al.


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