The Totten Glacier holds back more ice than any other in East Antarctica, which is itself the biggest ice mass in the world by far. Totten, which lies due south of Western Australia, currently reaches the ocean in the form of a floating shelf of ice that’s 90 miles by 22 miles in area. But the entire region, or what scientists call a “catchment,” that could someday flow into the sea in this area is over 200,000 square miles in size — bigger than California.
Moreover, in some areas that ice is close to 2.5 miles thick, with over a mile of that vertical extent reaching below the surface of the ocean. It’s the very definition of vast.
Warmer waters in this area could, therefore, ultimately be even more damaging than what’s happening in West Antarctica — and the total amount of ice that could someday be lost would raise sea levels by as much as 13 feet.
“This is not the first part of East Antarctica that’s likely to show a multi-meter response to climate change,” said Alan Aitken, the new study’s lead author and a researcher with the University of Western Australia in Perth. “But it might be the biggest in the end, because it’s continually unstable as you go towards the interior of the continent.”