Warm ocean water causing significant melting of Antarctic glacier

Washington: A team of researchers have discovered a valley underneath East Antarctica’s most rapidly-changing glacier that delivers warm water to the base of the ice that is causing significant melting. According to the study at Imperial College London, the intrusion of warm ocean water is accelerating melting and thinning of Totten Glacier, which at 65 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 3.5 metres and the glacier is one of the major outlets for the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is the largest mass of ice on Earth and covers 98 percent of the continent.

Study co-author Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said that it was only one glacier, but it was changing now and it was significant for sea levels globally.

Siegert added that the 3.5 metre rise may take several centuries to complete, but now the process has started it was likely irreversible and this was another example of how human-induced climate change could be triggering major changes with knock-on impacts that will be felt globally.

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet was previously thought to be surrounded by colder water and so relatively stable compared to the smaller West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is losing more than 150 cubic kilometres of ice each year. However, satellite data have shown that the Totten Glacier has also been thinning considerably.

The research is published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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