Ice sheet Dynamics and Processes along the West Antarctic Continental Shelf

Lead PI: Dr. Frank O Nitsche

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

June 2009 - May 2013
Antarctica ; Southern Ocean ; Amundsen Sea
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Detailed bathymetry of the Antarctic continental margin can reveal pathways of sediment and water transported beneath former ice sheets and allows reconstruction of ice flow. I am involved in various activates to compile and analyze bathymetric data from all around Antarctica. Much of the work has been focused on the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica.
Paleo ice flow and subglacial meltwater dynamics in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica

Increasing evidence for an elaborate subglacial drainage network underneath modern Antarctic ice sheets suggests that basal meltwater has an important influence on ice stream flow. Swath bathymetry surveys from previously glaciated continental margins display morphological features indicative of subglacial meltwater flow in inner shelf areas of some paleo ice stream troughs. Over the last few years several expeditions to the eastern Amundsen Sea embayment (West Antarctica) have investigated the paleo ice streams that extended from the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. A compilation of high-resolution swath bathymetry data from inner Pine Island Bay reveals details of a rough seabed topography including several deep channels that connect a series of basins. This complex basin and channel network is indicative of meltwater flow beneath the paleo-Pine Island and Thwaites ice streams, along with substantial subglacial water inflow from the east. This meltwater could have enhanced ice flow over the rough bedrock topography. Meltwater features diminish with the onset of linear features north of the basins. Similar features have previously been observed in several other areas, including the Dotson-Getz Trough (western Amundsen Sea embayment) and Marguerite Bay (SW Antarctic Peninsula), suggesting that these features may be widespread around the Antarctic margin and that subglacial meltwater drainage played a major role in past ice-sheet dynamics.
New Bathymetry Map of the Amundsen Sea, West Antarctica

The Amundsen Sea continental shelf is one of the remotest areas of coastal Antarctica, and was relatively unexplored until the late 1980s. Over the last two decades, increased oceanographic and geological interest has led to several cruises that resulted in sufficient bathymetric data to compile a fairly detailed regional map of the Amundsen continental shelf.

The glaciers and ice streams that end in the Amundsen Sea are thinning faster then other glaciers in Antarctica and one hypothesis relates this thinning to enhanced melting of the glaciers and ice shelves in this area. This melting could be caused by warmer ocean water that enters onto the shelf and is trapped in deep troughs under the ice shelves.

OUTCOMES: The Oden swath bathymetry and previous bathymetry have been compiled and integrated. Major geological features were identified. Five journal articles and six one-time publications.


National Science Foundation (NSF)


National Science Foundation




University of Stockholm



Nitsche, F. O., Gohl, K., Larter, R., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Kuhn, G., Smith, J., Jacobs, S., Anderson, J., and Jakobsson, M.2013. Paleo ice flow and subglacial meltwater dynamics in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica, The Cryosphere, 7, 249–262, doi:10.5194/tc-7-249-2013.

Nitsche, F.O.; Larter, R D; Gohl, K.; Graham, A G C; Kuhn, G. (2016). Bedrock Channels in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica. In: Dowdeswell, J A; Canals, M; Jakobsson, M, Todd, B J, Dodeswell, E K; and Hogan, K A (eds) Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms: Modern, Quaternary and Ancient. Geol. Soc. Lon. Mem., 46, 217-218. Doi: 10.1144/M46.1.

Nitsche, FO; Larter, R D; Gohl, K.; Graham, A G C; Kuhn, G. (2016). Crag-and-tail features on the Amundsen Sea continental shelf, West Antarctica In: Dowdeswell, J A; Canals, M; Jakobsson, M, Todd, B J, Dodeswell, E K; and Hogan, K A (eds) Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms: Modern, Quaternary and Ancient Geol. Soc. Lon. Mem., 46, 199-200. DOI: 10.1144/M46.2.

Kirshner, A. E., J. B. Anderson, M. Jakobsson, M. O’Regan, W. Majewski, F. O. Nitsche, 2012. Post-LGM deglaciation in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews, 38, 11-26.

Jakobsson, M., Anderson, J.B.,Nitsche, F.O., Gyllencreutz, R., Kirshner, A., Kirchner, N., O’Regan, M., Mohammad, R., Eriksson, B., 2012, Ice Sheet Retreat Dynamics Inferred from Glacial Morphology of the Central Pine Island Bay Trough, West Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews, 38, 1-10.

Jakobsson, M., Anderson, J.B., Nitsche, F.O., Dowdeswell, J.A., Gyllencreutz, R., Kirchner, N., O’Regan, M.A., Alley, R.B., Anandakrishnan, S., Mohammad, R., Eriksson, B., Fernandez, R., Kirshner, A., Minzoni, R., Stolldorf, T., Majewski, W., 2011. Geological record of Ice Shelf Breakup and Grounding Line Retreat, Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica. Geology 39, 691-694.

DATASETS: Nitsche, Frank (2013), Processed Grids (NetCDF:GMT format) derived from Multibeam Sonar Data from the Antarctic Amundsen Sea assembled as part of the Antarctica:PineIslandBay_Nitsche Data Compilation. Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance (IEDA). doi:10.1594/IEDA/320080.


paleo ice streams multibeam data marine geology and geophysics ice flows bathymetry data synthesis


Earth fundamentals