The Antarctic continent is essential to human survival and the future of our planet. Here at the south pole, Scientific expeditions are no longer the reserve of government sponsored initiatives or communications. Every day, men and women brave the ice and frozen waters to photograph unique species, and better understand this harsh white land where even tourism is starting to attract curious hordes.
Each year, scientists from 27 different countries experience Antarctica in a way that would be impossible to achieve elsewhere. In summer, more than 4000 scientists work in research stations. This number decreases to about 1000 in winter with some countries maintaining a permanent or quasi-permanent presence.
Global warming : not a fantasy – a reality.
Scientists agree today that global warming alone remains only a hypothesis when explaining the production of icebergs where temperatures vary from -30 °C in winter, to -60°C in summer and so a variation of only several degrees would be negligible as a sole contributing factor.
But recently, the largest glacier in East Antarctica, whose disappearance could lead to a rise of six meters above the current sea level, is melting because of global warming of the ocean, a discovery by Australian scientists.
The Totten Glacier, which is 120 kilometers long and more than 30 km wide, was previously considered to be situated in an area untouched by the warm currents, where the ice is very stable and not prone to changes. Returning from an expedition there, the Australian scientists, however, found that the water around the glacier had proved warmer than expected and that the glacier might melt from below.
“We knew through satellite data that the glacier was losing thickness but we did not know why,” Steve Rintoul, expedition leader, told told AFP. “The temperature of the water around the glacier was about 1.5 degrees higher than in other areas explored during this stay in Antarctica during the austral summer”, he added.
“The fact that warm water that can reach this glacier shows that East Antarctica is potentially more vulnerable to the impact of global warming than previously thought.”
“The Totten Glacier will not melt overnight and cause a sudden rise in sea level”, said the researcher. But he stressed that this discovery was important to better understand the impact of changes in ocean temperature on the ice cover.
The pace of melting glaciers in the Antarctic area most exposed to this phenomenon has tripled over the past decade, according to a study published last month based on the last 21 years.