As the winds around Antarctica intensify with rising global temperatures, they’re driving changes in the ocean that could speed up the flow of the massive Totten Glacier, which carries ice from East Antarctica into the ocean, adding to sea level rise, a new study says.
Along the coast, surface winds are projected to intensify over the century due to warming caused by increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The stronger winds can sweep aside a surface layer of very cold ocean water and enable warmer water from the depths to reach the base of the glacier’s floating ice shelf and slowly eat away at the ice from below, the authors say.
The new study, published today in the journal Science Advances, used detailed ocean temperature records and 15 years of data on the movement of the Totten Glacier and ice shelf to show how the ice thins and accelerates in response to changes in the wind.
The expected changes in wind patterns during the 21st century, “due in part to human activity … could drive Totten’s retreat,” the researchers concluded.
If the Totten Glacier were to melt completely, it could raise global sea level by 3.5 meters (11.4 feet) or more, they wrote.