Home Research Warm water triggering rapid ice melt in Antarctica’s Totten Glacier

Warm water triggering rapid ice melt in Antarctica’s Totten Glacier


Scientists have determined the cause of rapid melting of ice in Antarctica’s Totten Glacier – warm ocean water – a finding that overturns the belief that the Antarctic region was unaffected by the impact of climate change.

Researchers have published a study in Science Advances wherein they point out that increasing level of warm water is causing rapid melting of world’s largest glacier. The study and its findings come just days after a massive rift was spotted in the Antarctic’s ice shelf. The study published recently discusses the issues and reasons behind the melting of ice in world’s most massive ice sheet: Totten Glacier, East Antarctica.

A massive conduit of hot water was detected last year, measuring around 10 kilometres wide and 1 kilometre deep in front of the western side of the Totten Glacier. Scientists have expressed deep concern on the matter with the lead author of the study pointing out that it is of paramount importance to find out how the warm water in reaching and affecting the ice glacier of Antarctic.

Researchers note in the study that warm ocean waters have been detected closest to the Antarctic continent in the Bellingshausen Sea/Amundsen Sea sector and the most rapid warming of continental shelf bottom waters has occurred there helping to explain the rapid mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). However, until now East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) was assumed to be more stable as a result of its bedrock configuration and isolation from warm ocean waters.

Because there has been a substantial rise in sea levels across the globe – in access of 10 m during past warm climate epochs – scientists point out that this increase requires a substantial contribution from East Antarctica.

Researchers collected the first oceanographic data from the Totten ice front and results of their analysis revealed a deep trough on the western side of the Totten glacier with a width of 10 kilometers at a depth of 600m; below 600m, the trough narrows to form two deep channels, with a max depth of 1097 meters.

Warmer, saline ocean water reaches the cavity through these troughs at a temperature capable of melting the ice shelf at the grounding line, the point where a glacier connects with the ground. The results also show that, on an area-averaged basis, Totten has the highest basal melt rate among Eastern Antarctic ice shelves larger than 1000 km2.