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Wind may be driving the melting of East Antarctica’s largest glacier

If all of Totten Glacier’s ice slid into the ocean, global sea level would rise by at least 3.5 meters

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2:24pm, November 1, 2017
the Totten ice shelf

MELT ZONE  The Totten ice shelf (shown here) holds back a massive glacier, which drains a France-sized portion of East Antarctica and could raise sea levels by at least 3.5 meters if it slides into the sea.

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The wind is helping to awaken one of Antarctica’s sleeping giants. Warm ocean waters, driven inland by winds, are undercutting an ice shelf that holds back a vast glacier from sliding into the ocean, researchers report November 1 in Science Advances.

Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest glacier, with a drainage basin encompassing about 550,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of France. Its floating front edge, the Totten ice shelf, sticks out like a tongue over the water and acts as a buttress for the giant glacier, slowing its movement toward the ocean. If the entire land-based glacier destabilizes and slips into the sea, it could raise global sea level by at least 3.5 meters.

Satellite and on-the-ground studies have previously shown that Totten Glacier and its buttressing ice shelf are thinning. Last year, scientists

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