Totten Glacier- one of Antarctica's largest glaciers has been melting at a fast pace and already floating on the warm sea than previously anticipated.
According to scientists, if Totten Glacier continues to melt at the present rate, it could have a dramatic effect on the rising global sea levels. The glacier is massive- about the size of France and is known as one of Antarctica's fastest. The sheer volume of fresh water it could unleash into the sea is what has scientists worried, reports Phys.org.
The Totten has enough fresh water in it to increase sea levels around the world by 3 meters.
The discovery substantiating that a portion of the glacier has already entered the sea was made after researchers used artificially created seismic waves to "see through" the ice, notes the report. "In some locations we thought were grounded, we detected the ocean below indicating that the glacier is in fact floating," said Paul Winberry from Central Washington University, who was a part of the study.
This is a cause for concern, notes the report, as warm ocean waters have started calving the massive iceberg's underbelly. Large volumes of salty seawater reach hundreds of kilometers inland through underwater gateways, further speeding up the melting process. This, in turn, causes the glacier to melt rapidly.
Scientists have found this to be the reason behind the recent accelerated melting period that the glacier has started to go through. "It also means the Totten might be more sensitive to climate variations in the future," Winberry added.
As massive bodies of dense, heavy ice, glaciers work by slowly building up a massive quantity of frozen freshwater over hundreds of years. They then begin moving from the tops of mountains, through valleys, carving the Earth below as they move toward the sea. This process is slow and normally takes hundreds, if not thousands of years.
This is not readily seen in the Antarctic because the ice shelves there are massive. Kilometers thick, the contours of glaciers and Earth below them are completely blanketed in a seamless stretch of whiteness. NASA reports that between 2002 and 2016, the southern ice shelves dumped 125 gigatonnes of ice per year- this caused a sea level rise of 0.35 mm every year.
"Since the 1900s the global sea-level has risen by around 20 centimetres and by the end of the century it's projected to rise by up to one metre or more, but this is subject to high uncertainty which is why studying glaciers such as the Totten is important," said Ben Galton-Fenzi, from the Australian Antarctic Division.