Two previously unnoticed oceanic gateways of warm water have been linked to the extreme thinning of East Antarctica’s Totten Glacier according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin. This discovery raises concern for the state of the Antarctic ice sheet and rising sea levels.
The finding is significant given its location in East Antarctic. For years, scientists have known that warm ocean waters were moving up from the seafloor to the coastline and melting glacial ice in Western Antarctica at an alarming pace. Previous research had indicated that the area where the gateways were found was in fact solid ground. Analysis of ice-penetrating radar showed tell-tale signs that the ice was floating and being eroded by ocean water. This phenomena, thought primarily to be affecting Western Antarctica is now of concern in Eastern Antarctica with these findings on the Totten Glacier.
The Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest outlet of ice to the ocean; this melt may soon be irreversible. While it is expected to take many centuries for the glacier to completely collapse, the sea level would rise at least eleven feet as a result. The effects of such a continuous melt can be appreciated in the nearer future as well. Though the new findings spell out an even more compressed timeline for glacial melt, they will improve the accuracy of ice melt predictions and the timing of future glacial retreat.
Source: University of Texas at Austin