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Warm waters threatening Antarctic ice shelf


An enormous iceberg (R) breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory on January 11, 2008.


Torsten Blackwood

New research from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany says the 450,000-sq-km Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf is under threat.

According to Reuters, Dr Harmut Hellmer, lead author of the study said, "According to our calculations, this protective barrier will disintegrate by the end of this century."

Floating ice sheets are integral to sustaining Antarctica's glaciers and land-bound rivers of ice, said MSNBC. When the shelves melt away due to warming waters, glaciers spill more ice into the seas. 

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Hellmer told Reuters, "Ice shelves are like corks in the bottles for the ice streams behind them. They reduce the ice flow. If however the ice shelves melt from below, they become so thin that the dragging surfaces become smaller and the ice behind them starts to move."

The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf is not the only one slowing disappearing. According to the Mother Nature Network, the  Larsen B ice shelf has, "decreased from 4,373 square miles in 1995, an area about the size of the Gulf state of Qatar, to only 634 miles today."

The MNN also notes, "The northern Antarctic peninsula has been subject to atmospheric warming about 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 50 years, a figure that is several times greater than the global average."

Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey in a statement to MSNBC, "In all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up. It's this glacier acceleration that's responsible for most of the increase in ice loss from the continent and this is contributing to sea-level rise."

According to Our Amazing Planet, enough water is held in the ice glacier of West Antarctica to raise sea levels by several meters. 

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