Climate change could trigger instability in a major Antarctic glacier, eventually leading to nearly three metre rise of the sea level, say researchers.
Researchers looked at the future of Totten glacier, a significant glacier in Antarctica that drains one of the world's largest areas of ice, on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS).
By studying the history of Totten's advances and retreats, scientists discovered that if climate change continues unchanged, the glacier could cross a critical threshold within the next century, entering an irreversible period of very rapid retreat.
This would cause it to withdraw up to 300 kilometres inland in the following centuries and release vast quantities of water, contributing up to 2.9 metres to global sea-level rise.
"The evidence coming together is painting a picture of East Antarctica being much more vulnerable to a warming environment than we thought," said study co-author Martin Siegert, professor at Imperial College London.
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is presently thought to be relatively stable in the face of global warming compared with the much smaller ice sheet in West Antarctica, but Totten Glacier is bucking the trend by losing substantial amounts of ice.
Research revealed that Totten Glacier may be even more vulnerable than previously thought.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.