The Totten Glacier drains the largest ice catchment in East Antarctica.
It is also the region’s most rapidly thinning glacier, with the potential on its own to raise global sea levels by more than three metres if all of the glacier melted into the ocean.
But the difficulty of accessing the area means the Sabrina Coast on which the glacier lies has yet to be surveyed, and the mechanisms driving massive ice loss from the Totten in previous climate cycles are little known.
This summer the CSIRO Marine National Facility’s research vessel Investigator is making its first geoscience trip to Antarctic waters for research led by Macquarie University into interactions between the Totten Glacier and the Southern Ocean.
IMAS’s Dr Taryn Noble (Pictured, below. Photo: Doug Thost) is part of the voyage and, as part of the research program of the ARC-funded Antarctic Gateway Partnership, is studying the behaviour of the Totten Glacier during periods in the past when the climate warmed.
“We are surveying the Sabrina Coast, where Antarctic sediments transported by the outflow of the Totten Glacier are deposited into the ocean,” Dr Noble said.
“As well as mapping this previously unmapped area of the continental slope, we are collecting sediment cores.
“The layers of mud (Pictured, right, examining a sediment core. Photo: Doug Thost) will help us to go back in time to understand the behaviour of the Totten Glacier during time periods when the surrounding ocean has warmed in the past.
"We will also be able to learn more about the geology of the rocks hidden beneath the ice sheet.
“Since the Totten Glacier drains such a large volume of ice, much of which lies in deep basins more than 1km below sea level, it could be susceptible to ocean-driven melting at its base, which would lead to rapid ice loss and rising sea levels.
“It’s been an exciting voyage so far with decent conditions, stunning sunrises and sunsets, plenty of icebergs and whales (Pictured, below. Photo: Doug Thost) to keep us entertained, and lots of mud to bring home for analysis,” Dr Noble said.