Ross Ice Shelf airstream driven by polar vortex cyclone


  • Colin Schultz


The powerful air and ocean currents that flow in and above the Southern Ocean, circling in the Southern Hemisphere's high latitudes, form a barrier to mixing between Antarctica and the rest of the planet. Particularly during the austral winter, strong westerly winds isolate the Antarctic continent from heat, energy, and mass exchange, bolstering the scale of the annual polar ozone depletion and driving the continent's record-breaking low temperatures. Pushing through this wall of high winds, the Ross Ice Shelf airstream (RAS) is responsible for a sizable amount of mass and energy exchange from the Antarctic inland areas to lower latitudes. Sitting due south of New Zealand, the roughly 470,000-square-kilometer Ross Ice Shelf is the continent's largest ice shelf and a hub of activity for Antarctic research. A highly variable lower atmospheric air current, RAS draws air from the inland Antarctic Plateau over the Ross Ice Shelf and past the Ross Sea. Drawing on modeled wind patterns for 2001–2005, Seefeldt and Cassano identify the primary drivers of RAS.