Tech & Science

NASA Warns That Massive East Antartica Glaciers Melting at ‘Systematic’ Rate as Trump Doubles Down on Climate Change Denial

NASA scientists have warned that the glaciers of East Antarctica appear to be melting in a “systematic” manner due to warming global temperatures, despite long being considered to be more stable than their counterparts in the continent's western region.

Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, presented findings of her research on Monday, just after the Trump administration allied itself with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait to reject a landmark report on climate change from the United Nations. The document pointed to the dire effects of a global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius while also outlining ways to avoid such a catastrophe.

As the glaciers of East Antarctica melt, this has “the potential to reshape coastlines around the world through sea-level rise,” according to NASA. Although scientists have generally believed these glaciers were more stable, Walker's research, which used maps of ice velocity and surface height elevation, revealed that significant portions of the ice deposits have melted over the past decade.

GettyImages-925621356 Blocks of ice drift on the water off the coast of Collins glacier on King George Island, Antarctica, on February 1. As the glaciers of East Antarctica melt, this has “the potential to reshape coastlines around the world through sea level rise,” according to NASA. MATHILDE BELLENGER/AFP/Getty Images

The mammoth Totten Glacier has previously drawn attention from scientists because it contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by some 11 feet. But, according to Walker’s findings, many of the smaller glaciers nearby have been receding rapidly without much notice until now.

“Totten is the biggest glacier in East Antarctica, so it attracts most of the research focus," the scientist, who discussed her findings at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting on Monday in Washington, D.C., explained. "But once you start asking what else is happening in this region, it turns out that other nearby glaciers are responding in a similar way to Totten.”

Four glaciers to the west of Totten have lowered their surface height by approximately nine feet in the past 10 years, according to Walker's data. Prior to 2008, there was no noticeable change in these glaciers. To the east of Totten, glaciers are now estimated to be losing about 0.8 feet every year, a rate double of what it was in 2009. Notably, these significant losses are small in comparison to those occurring on the west side of the continent.

"The change doesn’t seem random; it looks systematic," Alex Gardner, a glaciologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said at the press conference. "And that systematic nature hints at underlying ocean influences that have been incredibly strong in West Antarctica. Now, we might be finding clear links of the ocean starting to influence East Antarctica."

David Holland, a professor of mathematics, as well as atmospheric and oceanic science, at New York University, told Newsweek that the melting “could have a major impact on global sea level rise over this century and beyond if this loss of East Antarctic ice continues at the present rate.” He also warned that “there is still an inadequate amount of basic research being conducted in this area.”

GettyImages-925621364 The Collins glacier on King George Island has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility, in the Antarctic on February 2 MATHILDE BELLENGER/AFP/Getty Images

“While much information can be gleaned from satellite remote sensing...it is also necessary to make physical observations in the surrounding waters,” he said, pointing out this is “a very challenging logistical task.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has turned a blind eye to the well-established science behind such climate change warnings. In late November, the president told reporters that he did not “believe” the dire predictions laid out in a report by his own administration. The document showed that climate change could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century and shrink the GDP by about 10 percent.

The president officially announced in June of last year that the U.S. would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord. The decision has isolated the U.S. from the rest of the world.

Holland told Newsweek that “facts” are the tool scientists must use to push back against the current administration’s opposition, saying that they will “win out in the end.”

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