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Chris Mooney @chriscmooney
, 16 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
1. It's time to talk -- again -- about Totten glacier, East Antarctica. In size, it’s somewhere between California and Texas. Single-handedly, it could raise global sea levels by nearly 13 feet. They basically don’t get any bigger than this.…
2. Every year, as part of its normal outward flow, Totten sends 71 billion tons of ice into the ocean (but it also gains much of this ice back through snowfall). That’s more than any other glacier in East Antarctica, which is itself the largest ice mass on the globe, by far.
3. We worry a lot about West Antarctica these days. But as a new study notes, if Totten were to go it could raise sea levels more than all glaciers and all the ice in West Antarctica combined.…
4. Totten is also right next to Moscow University glacier, also quite massive – and capable of driving another 4 plus feet of sea level rise.
5. So changes in the Totten area would be very bad – and we know they are happening. Scientific teams have detected what is essentially an enormous current of warm ocean water flowing towards Totten.
6. That water is reaching the undersea base of this extremely deep glacier by traveling through large crevasses/valleys in the ocean floor.…
7. (The water really isn’t actually “warm” according to colloquial understanding – it’s just slightly above the freezing point. But it is salty, which helps the melting process – and the pressure at these extreme depths increases melting even further.)
8. Recently, Yara Mohajerani and colleagues at the University of California-Irvine have used @NASA’s GRACE satellite data to determine how much ice Totten and Moscow University are currently losing.…
@NASA 9. Their answer, from 2002-2016, is 18.5 billion tons every year. Which is simultaneously a lot – and also not very much.
10. The figure dwarfs the losses from most glaciers in Greenland. But it does not really compare to the current, ongoing losses in West Antarctica right now.
11. The Totten region’s loss of 18 billion tons would be a lot for nearly any other glacier (or pair of glaciers) in the world. But for Totten, it’s not that huge. It would take some 20 years for this contribution to amount to a single millimeter of sea level rise.
12. So what’s the big deal here? The problem is that we know Totten is already changing. Those 18 billion tons could increase rapidly. And this glacier just has so much to give.
13. Recently scientists reported that overall ice losses from Antarctica have tripled in just 10 years; total loss now exceeds 200 billion tons annually.…
14. But importantly, that total includes very little contribution from East Antarctica or Totten. If the glacier were to awaken further, that 200 billion ton number could increase rapidly.
15. In sum, Totten is a place where just a little additional change would be quickly measured in billions of tons of additional ice going into the ocean.
16.It’s the epitome of the kind of massive planetary system that we humans, with our greenhouse gas emissions, could blunderingly perturb or destabilize-- not even realizing what we’re doing -- and then be powerless to stop. /end
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