GEOGRAPHY

New results in global change research: Accelerating ice mass loss and sea level contribution from the Toteng Glacier in East Antarctica dates back to the 1960s


Contrary to the general trend of micro-increase in ice mass in the East Antarctic ice sheet, the ice flow in the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica is accelerating and the loss of ice matter is intensifying, among which the change of Toteng Glacier is the most prominent. Due to the low quality and quantity of satellite remote sensing data prior to 1990, scientists have little understanding of the early ice flow velocity field and mass balance state in the region, which increases the uncertainty of estimates and projections of the contribution of global sea level rise.

In this study, using the first-generation ARGON satellite film images and early Landsat satellite data, the three-stage historical ice flow velocity field of the Toteng Glacier from 1963 to 1989 was reconstructed for the first time, and a long-term ice flow velocity sequence of nearly 60 years was formed in conjunction with recent remote sensing data products. Further calculations and simulations showed that the acceleration of ice flow and increased material emissions on the Toteng Glacier began in 1963, with short-term acceleration mainly related to the large disintegration of the leading edge of the ice shelf that occurred between 1973 and 1985, while the acceleration near the ground line was caused by the intrusion of warm water around the extremely deep depths. Between 1963 and 2018, continued melting of the bottom of the ice shelf drove accelerated ice flow and increased ice flux near the grounding line, making Toteng Glacier the largest contributor to global sea level rise among East Antarctic glaciers. In the context of global warming, as this trend continues, long-term remote sensing and ground-based monitoring of the region should be strengthened.

The results were published in the journal Nature Communications on July 10, 2023, under the title “Satellite record reveals 1960s acceleration of Totten Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.” The research was led by the team of Professor Li Rongxing from the School of Geomatics and Geoinformatics and the Center for Spatial Information Science and Sustainable Development of Tongji University, and was jointly completed by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Otago in New Zealand. Dr. Cheng graduated in 2022 and currently teaches at Shanghai University. The research work has been funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Central University Basic Research Project. Related papers can be found at:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-39588-x

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