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Satellite image of Totten Glacier
Photo Credit: European Space Agency
Satellite image of the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, which holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than 9 meters, greater than all of West Antarctica.

Totten Glacier

Glacier shows 'significant changes' in East Antarctica

Totten Glacier, which flows out of the Aurora Basin in East Antarctica, is big.

How big? It holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than 9 meters, according to estimates from the University of Edinburgh, one of the institutions involved in an airborne project to map out the Aurora and adjoining Wilkes Basin.

It’s probably the biggest valley glacier in East Antarctica and the one that seems to be changing from warmer ocean water, according to Don Blankenship External Non-U.S. government site, a research scientist at the Jackson School’s Institute for Geophysics External Non-U.S. government site at the University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) External Non-U.S. government site.

“It’s responding badly to changes in ocean circulation,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship is also the principal investigator on the project, an International Polar Year External U.S. government site initiative dubbed ICECAP, for Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate.

Tas van Ommen External Non-U.S. government site, a glaciologist with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) External Non-U.S. government site and ICECAP principal investigator, said the glacier is one of the few in the region showing significant changes. Satellite data show that Totten appears to be losing ice at its downstream edge.

“One aim of the ICECAP work will be to laern more about what is driving this change,” van Ommen said. “Presently, we don't know. There is a deep trench where it meets the [Southern] Ocean on the east flank of Law Dome, and ocean processes may be playing a role, but the change may also be connected with dynamic changes in the ice upstream.”

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