New research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050, risking their collapse by the end of the century, say scientists
Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the stability of the whole continent could be at risk by 2100, scientists have warned.
Widespread collapse of Antarctic ice shelves – floating extensions of land ice projecting into the sea – could pave the way for dramatic rises in sea level.
The new research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050. By the end of the century, the melting rate could surpass the point associated with ice shelf collapse, it is claimed.
If that happened a natural barrier to the flow of ice from glaciers and land-covering ice sheets into the oceans would be removed.
Lead scientist, Dr Luke Trusel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said: “Our results illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate.
“This has already occurred in places like the Antarctic Peninsula where we’ve observed warming and abrupt ice shelf collapses in the last few decades.
“Our model projections show that similar levels of melt may occur across coastal Antarctica near the end of this century, raising concerns about future ice shelf stability.”
The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was based on satellite observations of ice surface melting and climate simulations up to the year 2100.
It showed that if greenhouse gas emissions continued at their present rate, the Antarctic ice shelves would be in danger of collapse by the century’s end.
Under a reduced-emission scenario, the ice melting was brought under control after 2050.
Co-author Dr Karen Frey, from Clark University in Massachusetts, said: “The data presented in this study clearly show that climate policy, and therefore the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, have an enormous control over the future fate of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves, which we must consider when assessing their long-term stability and potential indirect contributions to sea level rise.”
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