Hidden Channels Beneath East Antarctica Could Cause Massive Melt
A glacier the size of California in East Antarctica is in danger of melting away, which could lead to an extreme thaw increases sea levels by about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) worldwide if the glacier vanishes, a new study finds.
Researchers have found two seafloor channels underneath the floating ice shelf of Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. The channels may let the warmest waters near the glacier to enter beneath the floating ice shelf, causing the rapid thinning of the ice shelf observed to date, the scientists said.
As the ice shelf thins, the point where the glacier starts to float will retreat, raising the sea level, and exposing more ice to the ocean.
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest body of ice in the world. “t’s larger than West Antarctica, it’s larger than Greenland. And within the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Totten Glacier is the most rapidly thinning glacier. Its vulnerability to deep warm water, that we identify, is the most likely explanation to for its [thinning] behaviour.
Researchers of earlier studies have found deep, warm water in the ocean surrounding the glacier, but this is the first evidence that it could compromise the ice shelf itself.
Totten Glacier’s ice shelf is thinning by about 33 feet (10 m) a year, likely because warm water is melting it from underneath, the researchers said. And if the ice flowing through the glacier melts, it will be the equivalent of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting, the researchers found.
Unless snowfall outpaces coastal melting, the loss of Totten Glacier to the ocean may soon be irreversible