Intensifying Antarctic Winds Blow No Good For Humankind

The Totten Glacier in East Antarctica Locks Up 11+ Feet of Sea Level Rise.
The Ice Shelf That Holds It Back Is Melting From Below.

The huge Totten Glacier is accelerating its advance as powerful South Ocean surface winds drive warm water underneath coastal ice shelves, melting them from below. Global warming is pushing wind speeds higher; the more powerful winds are changing atmospheric patterns, driving colder water away from the coasts, allowing warmer water from below to get at the ice shelves.

The Totten Glacier flows from the interior of East Antartica into the ocean. A new study published in Science Advances magazine estimates that the Totten ice sheet contains enough frozen fresh water to raise global sea levels by more than 11 feet if it all melted. Only a small fraction of that, when added to other sources of sea level rise, will be enough to tip humankind into panic mode.

Up until a few years ago, the East Antarctic ice sheet was called a sleeping giant, considered the one stable region at the two poles in terms of rapid ice melt. But that has changed. The latest study from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics suggests that increases in winds over the region speeds up ice flow into the ocean.

Read our previous coverage on East Antarctica here.

West Antarctic ice shelves have been in a state of increasing collapse for two decades.

Read our previous coverage on the Larsen Ice Shelves and an explanation of how that all works here.

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