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East Antarctica's Largest Glacier Melting Due to Warm Ocean Waters, Scientists Confirm

Dec 20, 2016 04:33 AM EST

On Friday, scientists at institutions in Australia and the United States had published a set of unprecedented ocean observations about the largest glacier in the one of the largest ice sheet in the world, the Totten glacier in East Antarctica. Their findings reveal one of the world's greatest fears - Totten is melting from below.

Through measurements done and sample ocean temperatures taken in some places at the edge of the Totten glacier, scientists confirm that warm ocean water is flowing towards the glacier at an approximate rate of 220,000 cubic meters per second. The warm water is causing the ice shelf to melt between 63 to 80 billion tons of its mass per year. It will eventually cause ice melt that is 32 feet of thickness annually. If all of the ice in the Totten glacier would melt, the sea levels would rise 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," stated Don Blankenship, one of the study's co-authors and a glaciologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Blankenship was not part of the research vessel in Antarctica. Instead, it was lead author of the research Stephen Rintoul, a researcher at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, who was aboard the vessel Aurora Australis.

Rintoul along with his colleagues navigated closely to the Totten ice shelf in January of 2015. Through an opening in the sea ice, they were able to gather observations about the ocean and detect that warm water was indeed flowing under the ice.

"Several lines of evidence support the conclusion that rapid basal melt of the TIS is driven by the flux of warm mCDW (modified Circumpolar Deep Water) into the cavity: the presence of warm water at the ice front, the existence of a deep trough providing access of this warm water to the cavity, direct measurements of mass and heat transport into the cavity, the signature of glacial meltwater in the outflow, and exchange rates inferred from the heat budget and satellite-derived basal melt rates," concluded the study published by Rintoul.

As per records, Earth's temperatures continue to be on the rise and the sea level on a global average has risen to 7 inches. If the ice sheet in Antarctica would completely melt, sea levels would rise to over 200 feet. According to NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, Antarctica has already lost 152 cubic kilometers of ice from 2002 to 2005.

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