The biggest East Antarctica Glacier is officially melting away as an as yet unknown origin warm water source is eating away at one of the largest such ice formations.
East Antarctica, that is also called the Greater Antarctica, spread over the great majority of the continent. Making up two-thirds of the Arctic’s area, it was considered one of the coldest terrestrial regions.
However, recent discoveries have been pointing out the area’s increasing frailty. The area’s ice sheet was discovered to be far more vulnerable than believed.
This is especially concerning as the area houses some of the biggest ice deposits. Partial melting of the ice sheets has already raised sea levels. A complete meltdown could have even more serious consequences.
A team of international researchers sought to investigate the area. More specifically, the Totem Glacier. This is considered to be amongst if not the most massive ice sheet.
Study results were published earlier this week. On December 17, they were released in the Science Advances journal.
Steve Rintoul, the lead author, went to offer details. His team was made up of American and Australian scientists.
According to their statements, research on the matter began a year ago. Back then, a team of Australian researchers detected an impressive hot water stream.
The 1 kilometer deep and 10 kilometers wide streamed on the western side of the Totten. Further study was deemed necessary. East Antarctica is well known for its cold temperatures.
This hot water stream was determined to cause the glacier’s melting. Its effects on the ice sheet were expected but previously unconfirmed.
As such, this is the first scientific confirmation of the theory. Researchers had already known that the Totten was melting. However, the reasons behind it were largely unknown.
The glacier’s thinning sheets was decided to have been caused by such water. Such warmer water was seen to infiltrate a glacier cavity.
Water flowing through this channel was registered to have a warm enough temperature. As such, it was also capable of melting the ice.
Ice shelf melting was observed to take place at its base, where it meets the ground. This was a very important find. According to Dr. Rintoul, the grounding line is a sort of plug.
It helps retain massive volumes of ice, held above sea level. The grounding line also restricts the flow of the ice.
Studies carried in the East Antarctica region helped prove the theory. As such, warm water was definitely proven to have an effect on the ice sheet.
Taking it as a proven fact, scientists are now hoping to move along the studies. They hope to find new clues as to the ice sheet’s behavior.
The team is hoping to determine the source of the warm water. Pathways carrying warm water should be further explored.
Discovering such a pathway could move along the ice vulnerability assessments. The source of the warm water was determined to be the deep ocean.
In order to further the study, the researchers will be returning to the region. The team will be made up of almost 30 people. They will be both scientists, Ph.D. students, and technicians. They are expected to reach the glacier sometime during December.
By determining the exact pathways, they are hoping to determine melt rates. Melt rate fluctuations and exact heat parameters are the new mission goals.
Melting rates could increase due to changes in the ocean current circulation. An increase in the glacier’s melting rates would be very problematic.
It would mean an increase in sea levels. Glaciers in other Arctic areas, especially the West, are already contributing to this phenomenon.
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