A new study reveals that the world's largest ice sheet, previously thought to be at little risk from climate change, has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades, signaling a potential threat to global sea levels.
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) holds enough water to raise sea levels over 50 meters.
Using declassified spy satellite data from 1963 to 2012, researchers from the University of Durham looked at 175 glaciers along the ocean margins of the ice sheet and found "widespread and synchronous changes" consistent with climate change.
"We've shown for the first time that these glaciers are in concert with climate," Chris Stokes, a professor of geography at Durham University and an lead researcher of the paper, told LiveScience.
"People have thought because [the EAIS] is so big and so cold, it must be some way off a threshold of showing a reaction to climate but actually it is quite sensitive and we can see melt water ponds forming along the margin of this part of the ice sheet," Stokes explained further.
"If the climate is going to warm in the future, our study shows that large parts of the margins of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are vulnerable to the kinds of changes that are worrying us in Greenland and West Antarctica—acceleration, thinning and retreat," said Stokes.
"We need to monitor their behavior more closely and maybe reassess our rather conservative predictions of future ice sheet dynamics in East Antarctica."
The findings were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.