NSFGEO-NERC: Ice-Shelf Instability Caused by Active Surface Meltwater Production, Movement, Ponding and Hydrofracture

Lead PI: Laura A. Stevens

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

June 2019 - May 2023
Antarctica ; George VI Ice Shelf
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The evolution of surface and shallow subsurface meltwater across Antarctic ice shelves has important implications for their (in)stability, as demonstrated by the 2002 rapid collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. It is vital to understand the causes of ice-shelf (in)stability because ice shelves buttress against the discharge of inland ice and therefore influence ice-sheet contributions to sea-level rise. Ice-shelf break-up may be triggered by stress variations associated with surface meltwater movement, ponding, and drainage. These variations may cause an ice shelf to flex and fracture. This four-year project will provide key geophysical observations to improve understanding of ice-shelf meltwater and its effects on (in)stability. The work will be conducted on the George VI Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, where hundreds of surface lakes form each summer.

OUTCOMES: Field data will be used to validate and extend the team's approach to modelling ice-shelf flexure and stress, and possible "Larsen-B style" ice-shelf instability and break-up.


National Science Foundation (NSF)


National Science Foundation


University of Colorado Boulder, University of Chicago, Cambridge University



DATASETS: Over a 27-month period, global positioning systems, seismometers, water pressure transducers, automatic weather stations, and in-ice thermistor strings will be deployed to record ice shelf flexure, fracture seismicity, water depths, and surface and subsurface melting, respectively, in and around several surface lakes on the George VI Ice Shelf.


fracture flexure sea level rise ice shelves meltwater