East Antarctica’s Sleeping Giant Awakes

Along Antarctica’s west coast near the Amundsen Sea, great white glaciers
the size of U.S. states slowly slide into the ocean. In the early ’80s,
scientists dubbed it the continent’s “weak underbelly” after learning that
ice here — which helps hold back the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet — is
anchored below sea level.

If oceans warmed, this unfortunate topography could cause rapid and
irreversible retreat. In decades past, glaciologists had assumed these
ancient features advanced and retreated on epic time scales — not in human
lifetimes.

Ever since, climatologists have been spellbound watching the rapid changes.
We now know that melting the whole West Antarctic Ice Sheet could cause 15
feet of global sea level rise. And that’s galvanized the scientific
community, leading to a new $50 million joint U.S.-U.K. project to predict
ice melt rates.

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