What on Earth is happening with the Totten Glacier?

18th November  2016

 

What on Earth is happening with the Totten Glacier?

Alarm bells have been ringing for some time now over the melting of the planet’s coldest continent of Antarctica. But now attention has begun focusing on the ice sheet of the West Antarctic region. This area is deep below the sea level and highly vulnerable to surrounding seas and warming currents.

However, new research recently published, has confirmed of an even greater threat going on in the larger ice shelf of East Antarctica. It is the Totten Glacier and holds back the most ice in the continent.

The sheer scale of energy required by the entire country is just over 58 gigawatts. And on that Sunday morning, the total output from hydropower (water), solar (sun) and turbo (wind) power and other “green” power sources reached a staggering 55 gigawatts.

The very thought that the Totten Glacier could perhaps one day float off into the sea is bewildering. Some of the ice on this glacier is well over two miles thick. The ice shelf is vast – about the size of California and New Mexico put together. There is so much ice here that, should it every warm and melt, it could raise sea levels by an unthinkable 12 feet.

Research has also discovered that the ice shelf has retreated in the past – in fact, several times, meaning there are areas of instability in the ice shelf, particularly as you move towards its interior.

The research was carried out by scientists and teams from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. However, these continuing cycles of retreat, it must be pointed out, have occurred over a period of about 30 million years.

The study team in the U.S. even released a press statement from the University of Texas in Austin, warning that the shelf and vast regions throughout the Totten Glacier are “fundamentally unstable and in particular across the East Antarctic.”

The glacier has been thinning at a rapid rate. The grounding line is the line where the glacier under the sea actually touches and meets with the sea bed. However, in the last 20 years the glacier has retreated inland by as much as 3 km (1.8 miles), suggesting that Totten can only lose 5 per cent more of its ice shelf before it can structurally hold the larger glacier in place.

The continent of Antarctica is made up of two vast regions – the West Antarctica and the East Antarctica. The East is by far the larger of the two ice masses and combined the entire area is so big you could fit the entire country of the United States easily within its borders.