As scientists raised the alarm last year over the irreversible melting of West Antarctica, they now believe things are even worse. A team of researchers from Britain, France, Australia and the United States found that the great ice sheet of East Antarctica is melting as well, and there is probably nothing we can do about it.
“The idea of warm ocean water eroding the ice in West Antarctica, what we’re finding is that may well be applicable in East Antarctica as well,” Martin Siegert, from the Imperial College London, told media.
After the team performed several research flights over East Antarctica, looking at the Totten Glacier, they came to the conclusion that things might be the same on the other half of the frozen continent. The scientist noticed a 3.5 meter rise in the sea level.
While Antarctica may seem pretty far away for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, “it is significant for sea levels globally”, Siegert says. The law of gravity dictates that it is the northerners who will be first affected by the sea level increase. The more ice melts at the bottom of the planet, the more the sea rises at the top.
Totten Glacier, which spreads over 40 miles by 18 miles, has been regarded as one of the stable regions of Antarctica until the recent study. Now, scientist fear the danger its melting would pose for the planet are even greater than what they found last year about the West Antarctica ice sheet.
The Australian Antarctic Division estimates an “equivalent to 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbour” is melting each year from the Totten Glacier. Conservative estimations from the study’s authors say that because of the warm ocean waters near the glacier the sea level could rise by almost 4 meters.
Narrow ice shelves from Totten expand far into the sea, and this represents a constant source of instability for the integrity of the entire ice platform. The scientists used radar equipment to measures ice’s thickness. They were able to find out how far below the seafloor was by measuring the impact Earth’s gravity had on airplanes in various locations.
The team warily reported that several cavities were found under the ice sheet. They weren’t able to determine yet, but hypothetically warm water could deposit in those cavities, hastening the melting and leading to a potential disintegration of the ice mass.
The conclusions of the study are not definitive, since the researchers were not able to measure the water temperature under the ice surface. They based their estimations on the fact that the ice platform is retreating, hence they believe the water is warm enough to represent a danger. Still, the study authors fear that if Antarctica has indeed begun dismantling, it is very hard to see how we can stop the process.
Image Source: University Herald
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