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AGU: Journal of Geophysical Research, Oceans



  • Antarctica
  • ice shelf
  • satellite radar altimetry

Index Terms

  • 0728 - Ice shelves
  • 0758 - Remote sensing
  • 1223 - Ocean/Earth/atmosphere/hydrosphere/cryosphere interactions
  • 1240 - Satellite geodesy: results
  • 1621 - Cryospheric change

Paper in Press


Thirty years of elevation change on Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves from multi-mission satellite radar altimetry

Key Points
  • Reports ice shelf elevation trends back to 1978 from satellite altimetry
  • Surface lowering began before 1992, the earliest previous measurement.
  • Significant elevation changes occur on interannual time-scales.


Helen Amanda Fricker

Laurence Padman

We use data acquired between 1978 and 2008 by four satellite radar altimeter missions (Seasat, ERS-1, ERS-2 and Envisat) to determine multi-decadal elevation change rates (dhi/dt) for six major Antarctic Peninsula (AP) ice shelves. In areas covered by the Seasat orbit (to 72.16oS), regionally-averaged 30-year trends were negative (surface lowering), with rates between -0.03 and -0.16 m a-1. Surface lowering preceded the start of near-continuous radar altimeter operations that began with ERS-1 in 1992. The average rate of lowering for the first 14 years of the period was typically smaller than the 30-year average; the exception was the southern Wilkins Ice Shelf, which experienced negligible lowering between 2000 and 2008, when a series of large calving events began. Analyses of the continuous ERS/Envisat time series (to 81.5o) for 1992-2008 reveal a period of strong negative dhi/dt on most ice shelves between 1992 and 1995. Based on prior studies of regional atmospheric and oceanic conditions, we hypothesize that the observed elevation changes on Larsen C Ice Shelf are driven primarily by firn compaction while the western AP ice shelves are responding to changes in both surface mass balance and basal melt rates. Our time series also show that large changes in dhi/dt can occur on interannual time scales, reinforcing the importance of long time series altimetry to separate long-term trends associated with climate change from interannual to interdecadal natural variability.

Received 10 March 2011; accepted 29 November 2011.

Citation: Fricker, H. A. and L. Padman (2011), Thirty years of elevation change on Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves from multi-mission satellite radar altimetry, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2011JC007126, in press.