This NASA image shows ripples in the surface of Denman Glacier in East Antarctica throwing shadows against the ice.
It’s a pretty picture, but the story behind it is not so rosy.
The glacier has retreated five kilometres in the past 22 years and scientists from the University of California Irvine (UCI) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are concerned that the shape of the ground surface beneath the ice sheet could make it even more susceptible to climate-driven collapse.
They recently completed the most thorough examination yet of the glacier and surrounding area and published their assessment in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
If fully thawed, they say, the ice in Denman would cause sea levels worldwide to rise about 1.5 metres.
“East Antarctica has long been thought to be less threatened, but as glaciers such as Denman have come under closer scrutiny by the cryosphere science community, we are now beginning to see evidence of potential marine ice sheet instability in this region,” says UCI’s Eric Rignot.
“The ice in West Antarctica has been melting faster in recent years, but the sheer size of Denman Glacier means that its potential impact on long-term sea level rise is just as significant.”