New research has found that if global temperatures reach 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, more than a third of ice shelves surrounding Antarctica could be at risk of collapsing and releasing “unimaginable amounts” of water into the sea.
What is Happening?
- The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that 4C warming could leave 34% of the area of all the Antarctic ice shelves- spreading over about half a million square kilometres- at the risk of collapse.
- As part of the study, the researchers also identified Larsen C, the largest remaining ice shelf on the peninsula, as being particularly at risk in a warmer climate. They said other ice shelves facing this threat included Shackleton, Pine Island, and Wilkins.
- Researchers from the University of Reading said that limiting global temperature rise to 2C could halve the area at risk.
Ella Gilbert, a research scientist in the University of Reading’s meteorology department, says, “Ice shelves are important buffers, preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”
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She continues, “We know that, when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly. Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline. But our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”
- The research serves an important reminder that global temperature increase must be actively curbed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise and extreme weather events.
Gilbert concludes, “If temperatures continue to rise at current rates we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades. Limiting warming will not just be good for Antarctica – preserving ice shelves means less global sea level rise, and that’s good for us all.”
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