SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: March 28, 2019

SNIP: No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Home to the South Pole and making up two-thirds of the southernmost continent, the vast ice sheets of East Antarctica — formed over tens of millions of years — are nearly three miles thick in places. The temperature commonly hovers around -67 degrees Fahrenheit (-55 degrees Celsius); in 2010, some spots on East Antarctica’s polar plateau plunged to a record-breaking -144 degrees F.

Now, however, parts of the East Antarctic are melting.

Research into what’s happening in East Antarctica is still in its early stages. It’s hard to decipher what exactly is taking place on a gigantic continent of ice with just a few decades of satellite data and limited actual measurements of things like snowfall and ocean temperatures. But according to one controversial paper released earlier this year, East Antarctica is now, in fact, shrinking, and is already responsible for 20 percent of the continent’s ice loss.

Scientists are seeing worrying signs of ice loss in the East Antarctic. Glaciers are starting to move more quickly, dumping their ice into the Southern Ocean; in satellite images, depictions of the fast-moving ice light up in red, like a panic sign.

A melting East Antarctic is deeply worrying. The Antarctic as a whole contains about 90 percent of the planet’s ice — enough in theory to raise global sea levels an average of roughly 200 feet should it all melt.