During a recent study, researchers have come across a valley under Totten Glacier, a rapidly-changing glacier in East Antarctica. According to the researchers, this newly discovered valley is speeding up the melting process of the glacier by delivering warm water to its base.
Due to this intrusion of warm seawater Totten is melting and slimming down more rapidly than ever before. The glacier, which is currently 30 km wide and 65 km long, contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 3.5m.
For those who don’t know: Totten is a major outlet for the much talked about East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), the ice sheet covering 98% of Earth’s southernmost continent Antarctica.
The temperature of seawater is changing quickly due to climate change; scientists have predicted that the next century will see 1 m rise in sea levels due to this growing temperature of seawater. The current situation is suggesting that Totten might play a big role in this change.
The study on the status and future of Totten Glacier has been published in the March 16 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience. The study has been conducted by scientists representing different institutions in France, Australia, the UK and the US; the most prominent name among them is Imperial College London.
Prof. Martin Siegert of Imperial College London, one of the coauthors of the study, informed that Totten is not the only glacier undergoing changes; however, it is surely the glacier that is changing most rapidly.
Prof. Siegert added that although Totten is melting fast, it will take centuries to melt completely and result in a rise of 3.5 m in global sea levels. What according to him is most disturbing is the fact that the melting process is most likely irreversible. He said that the current status of Totten clearly shows how climate change caused by human activities can trigger major environmental changes globally.
Previously, it was believed that the EAIS is surrounded by much colder water and was thus thought to be more stable than the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet), which covers 2% of Antarctica’s area. The WAIS since a long time has been losing around 150 cubic km of ice every year. However, this recent discovery by scientists makes it clear that the stability of the entire continent is in danger.