Inland Antarctic ice contains volumes of water that can raise global sea levels by several metres. A new study published in the journal Nature shows that glacier ice walls are vital for the climate, as they prevent rising ocean temperatures and melting glacier ice.

The ocean can store much more heat than the atmosphere. The deep sea around Antarctica stores thermal energy that is the equivalent of heating the air above the continent by 400 degrees.

Now, a Swedish-led international research group has explored the physics behind the ocean currents close to the floating glaciers that surround the Antarctic coast.

“Current measurements indicate an increase in melting, particularly near the coast in some parts of Antarctica and Greenland. These increases can likely be linked to the warm, salty ocean currents that circulate on the continental shelf, melting the ice from below,” says Anna Wåhlin, lead author of the study and professor of oceanography at the University of Gothenburg.

“What we found here is a crucial feedback process: the ice shelves are their own best protection against warm water intrusions. If the ice thins, more oceanic heat comes in and melts the ice shelf, which becomes even thinner etc. It is worrying, as the ice shelves are already thinning because of global air and ocean warming,” says Céline Heuzé, climate researcher at the Department of Earth Sciences of Gothenburg University.

Read more at University of Gothenburg