The Cryosphere, 31 August 2023
Latest observations confirm that the Vanderford Glacier in Wilkes Land, East Antarctica, is the third fastest retreating glacier in Antarctica over the past two decades. West Antarctica receives the bulk of attention for ice loss, but this study show such rapid loss is nearly matched even in parts of East Antarctica, mistakenly thought nearly immune to global warming by much of the public. Conditions on Vanderford mirror those of West Antarctic glaciers, with warm water entering cavities beneath its ice shelf. The study included a detailed assessment of the Vincennes Bay region around Vanderford, recording the warmest water intrusions ever seen in East Antarctica. Deep channels in the bottom of the bay allow warm ocean currents to flow upward onto the continental shelf, eroding the glacier where it meets the water. As the ice shelf supporting the glacier thins, it loses the ability to restrain the immense wall of ice behind it. Wilkes Land overall has been rapidly losing mass for several decades. Recent record-low sea ice trends around Antarctica may further speed ice loss and resulting global sea-level rise from glaciers such as Vanderford, which rely on frozen mixtures of sea ice and icebergs to stabilize the floating edge of the glacier, as well as shield against ice erosion from large ocean swells. If Vanderford’s retreat continues at its present rate, it will move from its position on stabilizing bedrock, triggering its inevitable loss; similar to the unstable retreat that multiple studies argue may already be underway for the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica.