In the Media

Explosive Cyclones Off Antarctica Contribute to Ice Shelf Calving

August 31, 2021

New research shows that ‘explosive’ cyclones off Antarctica, caused by increasing extreme atmospheric events, can contribute to ice shelf calving and, ultimately, sea level rise.

The finding comes after an international team of scientists, including Australian Antarctic Division physical scientist Dr Petra Heil, investigated the calving of a 1636 square kilometre, 210 metre-thick iceberg off the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.

The calving on 25 September 2019 occurred almost a decade earlier than scientists had expected (based on historical observations), from an existing rift across the front of the ice shelf.

Two explosive cyclone events just prior to the calving, were caused by unusual atmospheric conditions that fuelled sustained cyclones at the front of the ice shelf, and helped direct moist, warm air towards the ice shelf at the same time.

Dr Heil said these high latitude cyclones form in the extra-tropics, or mid-latitudes, and deepen as they move towards Antarctica.

They are marked by a deep central air pressure, are longer-lasting than ordinary cyclones, and bring clouds, high winds and often heavy precipitation.

“They form when the central pressure decreases by at least 24 hPa in 24 hours and they are stronger in the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean – near the Amery Ice Shelf – than elsewhere around Antarctica,” Dr Heil said.

“They are also more intense in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The team used satellite data and climate reanalysis (using models to analyse historical atmospheric observations) to understand the unusual atmospheric conditions at the time of the calving. They also looked at sea-ice conditions and ice movement over the Amery Ice Shelf.

Lead author of the study, Dr Diana Francis of Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates, said they found an explosive cyclone formed over Cooperation Sea, to the west of the ice shelf, on 18 September 2019, generating surface winds of more than 72 kph.

Read the rest of the article here: