East Antarctica Melting


East Antarctica Melting Could be Explained by Oceanic Gateways

Antarctica is very cold. Most of it is always frozen. So why are some country-sized glaciers there, thinning by six meters per year? Enquiring minds want to know.

This thinning was not anticipated, by common scientists. Apocalyptic considerations do not advance academic careers. However it looked ineluctable to yours truly, long ago:


The naïve had bellowed that East Antarctica would not melt for thousands of years. I pointed out that vast swathes of the ice continent were below sea level, and would melt in a geological instant, if warm water got below. This is exactly was is happening.

Let me have the pleasure to present to you the outlet of the Totten Glacier, hundreds of kilometers long, and fifty kilometers wide:

Warm Water Flowing Through Narrow Red Marks (5 Kms Wide). I Melt, You Drown.

Warm Water Flowing Through Narrow Red Marks (5 Kms Wide). I Melt, You Drown.

As I said, this is just the outlet of the Totten Glacier. As the picture below shows, most of the glacier is in the interior, and it is hundreds of time greater in area… And volume. More troubling, its bottom is miles… under water. Many glaciers of Antarctica, East or West, rest kilometers below sea level. (Much of the interior of Greenland is also below sea level; it is entirely possible that the sea could enter, too; a grand canyon was just discovered there.)

The reason is the weight of the ice. Two miles of ice press down with 3,000 tons per square meter. Over a square kilometer, that’s three billion tons. As continents float on a liquid layer which rests on something viscous, continental masses sink under the ice (“isostasis”). Conversely, 10,000 years after the disappearance of the ice, Scandinavia is still lifting up.

The euphemistically named “climate change” see even a drying California’s Sierra Nevada, going up: a drying Sierra is lighter than a wet Sierra.

So what is going on with these East Antarctica glaciers? Let’s consider Totten.

The “catchment basin” of the Totten glacier is larger than California. It firmly rests on the continent with depths as great as more than two miles below sea level (nearly four (4) kilometers!). I warned explicitly, six years ago, that it would melt soon, with the exact mechanism now revealed as being in full swing.

This Will All Melt. Map Above, The Entrance of Totten, Is The Red Rectangle

This Will All Melt. Map Above, The Entrance of Totten, Is The Red Rectangle

The coast of East Antarctica hugs the Polar Circle. Thus, it is not that far south. It is potentially exposed to warm waters. It is roughly at the same latitude as Iceland, a place where forests are growing again.

All this ice is protected by, or used to be protected by thick frozen lips, next to the Antarctic Ocean. (Reason: on the margin of the continent, there is no more ice, or then floating ices shelves; thus, there is no more weight pressing down, and the continent flexes back up, forming the lips; I made up the word “lip”, by the way).

The frozen lips used to be stuck with giant ice plugs. Those are melting, or, in the case of Totten, have melted, and relatively warmish water is increasingly circulating below. (The reason is that warm salted is denser than colder sweeter water; so warm water passes below.)

If the warm water passes the threshold, the lip, it will fall on the other side, below the giant glacier, or, as it called, the icecap.

The warm water has advanced below the Totten Glacier by hundreds of kilometers, and has lifted the glacier. The line where the glacier is still resting on the continent is called the “Grounding Line”.

The study published in Nature was the result of cooperation from NASA, ESA, USA, France, UK, Australia, and more than 100 scientists. East Antarctica Melting Could be Explained by Oceanic Gateways


The Grounding Line can be picked up on ice penetrating radar. Such radar can distinguish the polished ice lifted and melting, and the grounded ice.

It is known that the entire Totten basin has melted in the past. One has to understand the human species evolved in the last two million years or so, roughly coincident with the freezing of Antarctica.

Why, when did Antarctica freeze? When the CO2 density fell below 450 PPM. Now it’s 400 PPM, if restricted to CO2.

However, in truth, we are well above 450 PPM, because one has to count the other man-made greenhouse gases (which did not exist when Antarctica started to freeze three million years ago).

So now Antarctica is unstable. As a frozen continent.

The warm water is not just lifting the glacier, but melting it. From below. When the glacier is entirely melted, all the ancient water molecules frozen above sea level in the past will rejoin the oceans. And the oceans, in turn, will rise.

A secondary effect is that, as the sea level rises, the ice shelves will get pushed up. As this happen, they will fracture, and melt even faster than expected. This will have an effect especially on West Antarctica, much of it been anchored by giant ice shelves.

Antarctica, and Greenland, if they thoroughly melted, would stay melted. Forests would grow (they started to, in Greenland).

Scientists are reassuring: if the Totten glacier melts completely, it will take centuries. They look at each other, and opine. I can hear them bleat from here. They have to be reassuring, because they are Very Serious People, on whom plutocracy leans.

It is the same crowd who, six years ago, was absolutely sure East Antarctica would never melt.

Yet, it is melting.

I will not bother to roll out mathematics and compute. Take California, cover it with two miles of ice. Then direct at it cold water, with a hose, five miles wide, half a mile deep. How long? Ah, a detail that may not be a detail: it’s coming from below. With ice shelves, lifting from below induces their brutal disintegration. The same happens with flowing glaciers. The spectacle is nearly incomprehensible in its violence and gigantism.

So watch this video, of the largest calving event ever filmed:


This is the future of the Totten glacier, soon, and on a wide, getting ever wider, front.

No, it will not take centuries.

Decades, at most.

Melting Totten will change human civilization, forever. And of course, it will not melt alone. As I showed in detail, six years ago, there is an ever larger catchment basin in East Antarctica, with its bottom miles under sea level

Patrice Ayme’


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23 Responses to “East Antarctica Melting”

  1. ianmillerblog Says:

    The depressing point is that politicians are still in denial, and the sea level rise will be disastrous bearing in mind where our best agricultural land, many of our cities, and our infrastructure is.

    A minor addition: a contributing feature to the formation of ice in Antarctica was the separation of South America from Antarctica at the end of the Eocene, thus permitting a circumpolar sea current.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: Thanks. And thanks for the reminder. Yes separation and circumpolarity happened 34 million years ago, at a time of significant cooling. Most probably, the former implied the latter.
      Closing of Panama made things worse, somehow.

      As cold increased CO2 decreased? I don’t get that part, but the record shows it.

      Our politicians are mostly incapable of understanding science. They are typically non-scientist lawyers, or then French ENA types. Worst of all, they got elected because they learned to lie all day long, so they don’t even know what the truth is. Denial is what they do.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        To answer my own question, cold may have augmented upwelling, so photoplankton, thus CO2 absorption… Interesting perspective, as upwelling is augmenting… Now. Although with the Ph collapsing….

      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Dear Patrice, It may be no more than CO2 is much more soluble in cold water, and when it does, it will weather rocks more quickly. Interestingly, it may be that volcanism may have cooled the air by blocking sunlight, and if the ash contained calcium rich silicates, then the oceans would fix quite a bit of dissolved CO2. Of course the volcanism also emits CO2, so this is not a simple solution.

        As for politicians, what we must appreciate is that they have generally demonstrated only one real ability: to get to stand in an electorate that will vote them in. Which means, they are good at back-room deals and at self-promotion, which is not particularly useful when dealing with climate change.

  2. Paul Handover Says:

    Politicians are an easy, and justifiable, targets, without doubt. But I would be staggered if in the next few years, say fewer than another three election cycles, if the public pressure for change doesn’t produce governments that acknowledge how close we are to ‘the end’.

    The melting of the ice sheet over Greenland is now a given. The ice sheets of West and East Antarctica a hair’s breadth from being a given.

    Going to be a good time to corner the market in Kayaks!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul:
      The obvious way, politically, is to allow referendums (Swiss “votations”). However none of the major countries is going that way. France is led by a few dictators, dictating. In Britain, politicians are running for god: even Vice PM Nick Clegg joined in the god chorus (although he is an atheist!) I guess only god can help him at this point.

      I think that Antarctica will massively melt well before Greenland. The former is melting from below… Hmmm… Even if you did not understand this, this means I was not very clear, I should crank up another essay on this…

      • Paul Handover Says:

        Regarding Greenland, I wasn’t speaking from my own (lack of) knowledge but rather from the content of a recent HBO programme, Our Rising Oceans, that I featured in a LfD post last Thursday: http://learningfromdogs.com/2015/03/19/and-human-madness/

        Glaciologist Dr. Eric Rignot expressed the view that while we may have a slim chance of slowing down the ice melt in the Antarctic, it was too late for the Greenland ice sheet.

        Oh, utterly agree with the power of referendums. Not holding my breath on that one!

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Yes, thanks Paul. I just try to answer this in the latest essay, published just now. This is the common wisdom. It is wrong, or, at least, this is what I try to prove.
          I am pretty sure that I am right, BTW. You tell me what you think about my cogitations… As the essay was published in answer to the remark of yours yesterday… 😉

  3. gmax Says:

    Could you give more details on WEST Antarctica. (Following up on your answer to Paul.)

    BTW, the movie of the breakup of that glacier was astounding. Stunning. They get icequakes in Greenland too.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Will do. Yes icequakes up to 6 Richter!

    • Paul Handover Says:

      Just watched the footage of that calving event. Incredible but also scary beyond belief in terms of what Nature is screaming out at us.

      None so deaf as those who choose not to listen!

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Spectacular, no? I was astounded when I saw that. And I have seen a lot.

        Yes, that is the way the Totten glacier will go, piece by piece.
        It’s probably how the ice shelves that have already disintegrated in Antarctica also went (the events were overnight; they got lucky to catch this one in daylight)

  4. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to The Economist, Aril 6, 2015.]

    In some major cities in California, there are no water meters. It’s like the Soviet Union before its fall…

    The problem with climate and sea level change is not Greenland: it will not melt fast, it rests on rock. The problem is Antarctica. That will melt fast, half of it rests below sea level.


  5. Bad Faith, Not Denial | Climate Crash Says:

    […] And sure enough, Antarctica, even East Antarctica is now unstable (latest news): https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/east-antarctica-melting/ […]

  6. Against Perceived Irrelevance Creative Thinkers Contend In Vain | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] supposed to last 5,000 years by conventional climatologists anxious to be taken very seriously, is actually already melting, below the surface. If I spent all my energy writing silly sorcery for little children, I would have, no doubt, more […]

  7. Ice Sheets Melt: Academics Waking Up; New York Times In Denial | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] Indeed, warm water will rush below the ice sheets in West Antarctica, and East Antarctica’s immense Wilkes and Aurora subglacial basins. […]

  8. The most beautiful dagger of them all! | Learning from Dogs Says:

    […] warm water will rush below the ice sheets in West Antarctica, and East Antarctica’s immense Wilkes and Aurora subglacial […]

  9. Patrice Ayme Says:

    {Sent to the lying Guardian, a newspaper which censors and insults me. Nov 2, 2015]

    The more a glaciated area warms up, the more it snows, until it turns to rain. Scientists in climate science have a vital career interest to not aggravate the governments which feed them. Thus the time scales (2 centuries for disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Shield, etc.) are probably very optimistic. In truth the melting is probably a matter of decades, not centuries.

  10. Biblical Flood Starting Anew | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] first. Maybe they did not drill there, and are just speculating, whereas I have a reasoning on the Totten Glacier, outlet to the Aurora extremely deep basin, which is being quickly undermined as we […]

  11. Proof ANTARCTICA Is BREAKING UP | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] is breaking up. It’s happening from below, sight unseen. It requires a bit of logic to understand it, as we saw. When the unexplained Sea Level Rise will […]

  12. NASA’s Antarctic Interpretational Error | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] But this is not all: the areas undermined and sinking, thus invaded by water below, are the gateways of the West Antarctic Ice Shield (WAIS), the Wilkes Basin, and the Aurora Basin. […]

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