Antarctica's Totten glacier is melting, and researchers at the University of Texas have discovered two seafloor gateways that could be responsible for the thinning.
"We now know there are avenues for the warmest waters in East Antarctica to access the most sensitive areas of Totten Glacier," said Jamin Greenbaum, lead author of a study published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, the university reported
The study details two warm water inlets that could be undermining the glacier from beneath. The larger gateway identified was a seafloor valley three miles wide that runs underneath the ice sheet, which is itself roughly the size of California. It connects the underside of the glacier with warmer waters further north.
Previously, scientists thought the ice was resting on solid ground, however new radar imaging shows it's likely floating on water.
"Now we know the ocean is melting ice in an area of the glacier that we thought was totally cut off before," said Greenbaum. "Knowing this will improve predictions of ice melt and the timing of future glacier retreat."
Previous research suggests that the melting of the Totten glacier could raise sea levels by as much as 11 feet, however it would likely take at least decades for that to happen.
Fellow researcher at the university Donald Blankenship said that the new researcher gives scientists even more insight into the topography and makeup of Antarctica as a whole.
"We’ve basically shown that the submarine basins of East Antarctica have similar configurations and coastal vulnerabilities to the submarine basins of West Antarctica that we’re so worried about, and that warm ocean water, which is having a huge impact in West Antarctica, is affecting East Antarctica, as well," said Blankenship.
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