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?

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.”

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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