Discovery of oceanic gateways could explain East Antarctica melting

The discovery of oceanic gateways could explain rapid glacier thinning in East Antarctica, according to newly published research by Jamin Greenbaum, a member of the airborne geophysics group at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, and an international team of collaborators.

Warm ocean water has been observed since 1996 below 400 to 500m of cool surface water offshore of the Totten Glacier, the largest and most rapidly thinning glacier in East Antarctica. Until now, Totten Glacier was thought to be insolated from the warm, deep water by a shallow basement ridge making the cause of its high thinning rate a mystery possibly explained by grounded ice processes. Greenbaum inverted airborne gravity data in Geosoft's GM-SYS Profile and GM-SYS 3D Modelling applications to reveal two deep seafloor valleys that could allow the warm ocean water to reach the base of the glacier’s floating section and drive rapid melt.

The discovery likely explains the glacier’s extreme thinning and raises concerns about how it will impact sea level rise. The result is of global importance because the ice flowing through Totten Glacier alone is sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 11 feet, equivalent to the contribution of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet if it were to completely collapse.

The research team’s efforts are already gaining recognition. Greenbaum is lead author on a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience and the story has been picked up by international media outlets including the Washington Post and CNN in the US and The Telegraph in the UK with some articles already translated to Spanish and Swedish. Greenbaum welcomes the global attention, noting “sea level rise is a global problem and requires an international solution.”

Read the full story on Earth Explorer


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