The loss of ice shelves does not contribute much directly to sea level rise. But they act like a cork in a bottle at the point where glaciers meet the sea – jamming the flow of ice from the massive ice sheets of east and west Antarctica.
Professor Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, said the rates of ice loss were unsustainable and could cause a major collapse. This is already occurring at the massive Pine Island glacier, where ice loss has doubled in speed over the last 20 years as its blocking ice shelf has melted.
“This is a real concern, because such high rates of thinning cannot be sustained for much longer, and because in the places where Antarctic ice shelves have already collapsed this has triggered rapid increases in the rate of ice loss from glaciers above ground, causing global sea levels to rise,” he said.
The new research, published in the journal Science on Thursday, discovered for the first time that ice shelf melt is accelerating.
Dr Paul Holland, a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said the loss of the shelves would speed the complete collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet, which would eventually cause up to 3.5m of sea level rise. But he said it was highly unlikely this would occur this century. He said the “worst case scenario” for 2100 was that ice sheets would contribute an additional 70cm to the sea level rise caused by the warming of the ocean....
Via NASA, a satellite image of Schokalsky Bay, Antarctica