Seismic observations of sea swell on the floating Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica

L. M. Cathles IV, Emile A. Okal, Douglas R. MacAyeal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


A seismometer operating on the floating Ross Ice Shelf near its seaward ice front (Nascent Iceberg) for 340 days (out of 730 days) during the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Antarctic field seasons recorded the arrival of 93 distantly sourced ocean swell events displaying frequency dispersion characteristic of surface gravity waves propagating on deep water. Comparison of swell event dispersion with the NOAA Wave Watch III (NWW3) ocean wave model analysis reveals that 83 of these events were linked to specific storms located in the Pacific, Southern, and Indian oceans. Nearly all major storms in the NWW3 analysis of the Pacific Ocean were linked to signals observed at the Nascent site during the period of seismometer operation. Swell-induced motion of the Ross Ice Shelf is found to increase by several orders of magnitude over the time period that sea ice surrounding Antarctica decreases from its maximum extent (October) to its minimum extent (February). The amplitude of vertical vibration of the ice shelf in the frequency band between 0.025 and 0.14 Hz varies between tens of micrometers to millimeters as sea ice decays to its minimum seasonal extent. This suggests that climate influence on sea ice extent may indirectly modulate swell energy incident on the calving margins of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The largest swell signals observed on the Ross Ice Shelf come from storms in the tropical Pacific and Gulf of Alaska. These remote events emphasize how the iceberg calving margin of Antarctica is connected to environmental conditions well beyond Antarctica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberF02015
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geophysics


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