March 30, 2015

Leroux Bay Glacier Retreat-Island Formation, Antarctic Peninsula

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Leroux Bay is on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula in Graham Land.  Numerous glacier drain from the Antarctic Peninsula into the ocean along this coast, and as they retreat the coastline is changing.    Air temperatures rose by 2.5°C in the northern Antarctic Peninsula from 1950 to 2000, which has led to recession of 87% glaciers and ice shelves on the Peninsula in the last two decades (Davies et al.,2012). Most spectacularly has been the collapse of Jones, Larsen A, Larsen B, Prince Gustav and Wordie Ice Shelves since 1995 (Cook and Vaughan, 2010). This has opened up our ability to examine sediments that had accumulated beneath the floating ice shelves.   The LARISSSA Project has been pursuing this option and utilized the Korean icebreaker ARAON to explore and map the bathymetry of Leroux Bay.  Last week Antarctica recorded its highest temperature at  the Argentine Base Esperanza on March 24th, 2015 located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula reported a temperature of 17.5°C (63.5°F). Here we examine the changes from 1990 to 2015 of glacier on the north side of Leroux Bay. 


Location of Glacier examined from USGS Map.

leroux bay ge

Google Earth image indicating glacier flow directions, blue arrows, island yellow arrow and glacier terminus red arrow.

In 1990 and 1991 the Leroux Bay Glacier extended to the yellow arrow, which is an island connected by the glacier to the mainland and acts as a stabilizing point for the glacier. The ice front is marked with yellow dots in both cases. The terminus region of the glacier is floating, making this a small ice shelf, fed by three tributaries, one from the north, one from the east and one from the northeast.  By 2001 the glacier front has retreated to the red arrow, losing most of the floating area, and the northern tributary now has an independent calving front.  The red arrow also points to the tip of a peninsula, another stabilizing point, the ice front is marked by the red dots for 2001 and 2015. The yellow arrow indicates the new island that is detached from the mainland. The two images from January 2015 and Late February 2015 indicate limited retreat an the north and south sides of the terminus, but retreat in the glacier center has led to a concave shaped calving front. Retreat from 1990 to 2015 averages 2.1 kilometers. The USGS map (Blue Line) indicates the terminus in the 1960’s was 3 km beyond the 1990 terminus location. The calving front remains active with extensive crevassing.  It is not clear simply from Landsat imagery if any of the glacier is afloat, if so it would likely be the southern half of the eastern tributary, There is limited melting in this region, so volume loss can occur via basal melt via ocean water or calving.  Even in a warm summer there is little visible evidence of surface melting in 2015. The widespread loss of mass from ice shelves in Antarctica is mainly via basal melting (Paolo et al, 2015). An examination of the coast in the region illustrates numerous other examples where glacier retreat has led to separation of islands, such as with the loss of the Jones Ice Shelf.

leroux bya 1990
1990 Landsat image

leroux bay 1991
1991 Landsat image
leroux bay 2001
2001 Landsat image
leroux bay 2015 early
January 2015 Landsat image
leroux bay 2015 late
Feb. 2015 Landsat image