The situation in the Antarctica may be more dire than we originally thought: a new study published by Nature Geoscience reveals that warm seawater is probably getting under an East Antarctica glacier. This is bad, because if that’s the case, the seawater is causing the glacier to melt that much faster.
Typically, the West Antarctica ice sheet has been the big worry. It’s a low-lying region that’s in a bad place, and is prone to runaway melting. Things went from “possibly bad” to “actually kinda bad” when two major studies concluded last year that the West Antarctica ice sheet is already in a slow motion collapse, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
This is estimated to cause a sea level rise of 10-foot over the next few centuries.
And now we learn that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica is just adding more water to the flood. Several research flights over the area, to map the depth of the seafloor below, resulted in some rather disturbing revelations:
The result was the discovery of two undersea troughs or valleys beneath the ice shelf — regions where the seafloor slopes downward, allowing a greater depth of water beneath the floating ice. These cavities or subsea valleys, the researchers suggest, may explain the glacier’s retreat — they could allow warmer deep waters to get underneath the ice shelf, accelerating its melting.
This is bad. To quote Gizmodo:
Once warm seawater erodes the ice shelf that separates glacier and ocean, seawater can pour into the low-lying area behind it, accelerating its melting, too. That’s where the 11-foot additional sea level rise estimates come in.
All this goes to show how sea level rise can sneak up on us. The researchers were only able to detect the hidden troughs under the ice shelf after several flights with instruments measuring variations in Earth’s gravity. Other surprises may lurk under the ice, too. Estimates are estimates, and they can be wrong in both directions, but in this particular case, it’s looking like future generations are even more screwed than we once thought.
The Earth is just fine. As the trolls are all too happy to point out, it’s been here before. The Earth isn’t going anywhere.
Human civilization, now, that’s a different story.