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Third of Antarctic ice shelf at risk of collapse

More than a third of the Antarctic’s ice shelf could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures reach 4°C above pre-industrial levels, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

In the most comprehensive study to date, researchers at the University of Reading used high-resolution regional climate modelling to predict how vulnerable the vast floating platforms of ice surrounding Antarctica are to climate change.

They found that 34% of the area, around half a million square kilometres, would be at risk of destabilisation under 4°C of warming.

The researchers also identified Larsen C – the largest remaining ice shelf on the peninsula – which split to form the enormous A68 iceberg in 2017 – as one of four ice shelves that would be particularly threatened in a warmer climate.

Dr Ella Gilbert, a research scientist in the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology, said: ‘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.

‘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 findings highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea-level rise.

‘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.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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