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One-third of the Antarctic ice shelf is in danger of collapsing as our planet warms

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In a forecast study, scientists found that 34% of the surface of all Antarctic ice sheets, measuring about half a million square kilometers, could be destabilized if world temperatures were to rise by 4 degrees. About 67% of the ice shelf area in the Antarctic Peninsula would risk destabilization under this scenario, the researchers said.

Ice shelves are permanent floating ice platforms attached to coastline areas, formed where ground-flowing glaciers meet the sea. They can help limit rising global sea levels by acting as a dam, slowing the flow of melting ice and water into the oceans.

Every summer, the ice on the surface of the ice shelves melts and passes into smaller gaps in the snow below, where it usually cools. But when there is a lot of melting and little snowfall, this water instead accumulates on the ice surface or spills into cracks. This deepens and widens the cracks, causing the shelf to break and collapse into the sea.

“Ice shelves are important protectors that prevent glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contribute 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 spills into the sea, “study lead author Ella Gilbert, a climate scientist in the Department of Meteorology at Reading University, said in a statement.

Gilbert told CNN that low-lying coastal areas, especially small island states like Vanuatu and Tuvalu in the South Pacific, are most at risk from global sea level rise.

“However, coastal areas around the world would be vulnerable and countries with fewer resources available to mitigate and adapt to rising sea levels would see worse consequences,” she said.

In the new study, which used regional high-resolution climate modeling to predict the impact of increased melting and water flow on ice shelf stability, researchers say limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius instead of 4 degrees Celsius would halve the area at risk and potentially avoid significant sea level rise.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in a landmark report that we only have until 2030 to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and prevent the planet from reaching the core threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). on pre-industrial levels.

This view shows a large iceberg that has been separated from the Pine Island glacier.

Global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45% from 2010 levels to 2030 and reach “zero zeros” around 2050 in order to keep warming around 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The findings underscore the importance of limiting global temperature rises as set out in the Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including rising sea levels,” Gilbert added.

In the Paris agreement, 197 countries agreed on the goal of keeping global temperatures “far below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Antarctic sponges discovered confused scientists on the ice shelf
But we are on track for a world that is 3.2 degrees Celsius warmer by the end of the century.

Gilbert told CNN that rising temperatures mean melting occurs more often, and more intensively.

The researchers identified four ice shelves that would be threatened by warmer climates: the Larsen C, Shackleton, Pine Island and Wilkins ice shelves, which are vulnerable due to their geography and the projected runoff in those areas.

Larsen C is the largest ice shelf left on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Pine Island glacier has received a lot of attention in recent years because it melted rapidly in response to climate change, Gilbert said.

If these ice shelves all collapse, which is not guaranteed, the glaciers they currently inhibit will spill into the ocean, contributing to rising sea levels – potentially by tens of centimeters, she explained.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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