Glaciers in the East Antarctic are more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought, according to a new study.
Scientists had believed that glaciers along the remote East Antarctic coastline were immune to the effects of climate change. At around 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) they are the thickest ice sheets in the world and have received relatively little attention compared to the rapidly retreating ice sheets of the Arctic or the melting ice shelf of West Antarctica.
However, in a study published in the journal Nature, researchers from Durham University have used images from declassified spy satellites to show that the glaciers have in fact been rapidly retreating and advancing as temperatures rise and fall.
The researchers say there is an urgent need to study this pattern, as although there is no immediate threat, the East Antarctic glaciers contain enough water to raise sea levels by over 50 meters.
Dr Chris Stokes from Durham’s department of geography, an author of the study, said, “In many ways, these measurements of terminus change are like canaries in a mine – they don’t give us all the information we would like, but they are worth taking notice of.”
“We need to monitor their behaviour more closely and maybe reassess our rather conservative predictions of future ice sheet dynamics in East Antarctica.”
Earlier this month, a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claimed that ice coverage in the Arctic reached a record low last year. At 1.32m square miles, it was 18% lower than the previous record low extent registered in 2007.