Scientists confirm that warm ocean water is melting the biggest glacier in East Antarctica
Scientists have now put together all the pieces to confirm that the enormous Totten glacier is losing mass rapidly, and the ocean is responsible.
These waters, the paper asserts, are causing the ice shelf to lose between 63 and 80 billion tons of its mass to the ocean per year, and to lose about 10 meters (32 feet) of thickness annually, a reduction that has been previously noted based on satellite measurements.
This matters because more of East Antarctica flows out towards the sea through the Totten glacier region than for any other glacier in the entirety of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Its entire “catchment,” or the region of ice that slowly flows outward through Totten glacier and its ice shelf, is larger than California. If all of this ice were to end up in the ocean somehow, seas would raise by about 11.5 feet.
“This ice shelf is thinning, and it’s thinning because the ocean is delivering warm water to the ice shelf, just like in West Antarctica,” said Don Blankenship, a glaciologist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the study’s co-authors. Blankenship was not on the research vessel, but he and his colleagues helped the Australia-based researchers with understanding the contours of the seafloor so they could plan their field investigations into where warm and deep waters could penetrate.