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Home » Over a third of the Antarctic ice shelf is at risk of collapsing as Earth continues to warm.

Over a third of the Antarctic ice shelf is at risk of collapsing as Earth continues to warm.

Over a third of the Antarctic ice shelf is at risk of collapsing as Earth continues to warm.

In a new study, scientists at the University of Reading have found that as climate change continues, if Earth's global temperature rises to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, about 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) of the Antarctic ice shelves could collapse into the sea. Ice shelves are permanent floating slabs of ice attached to coastline, and the collapse of these shelves could significantly raise global sea levels, the researchers suggest.

"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," lead study author Ella Gilbert, a research scientist in the University of Reading's Department of Meteorology, said in a statement.

Every summer in Antarctica, ice on the surface of the ice shelf melts and that water travels into the snow below where it refreezes. But in years with more melting ice than snowfall, that water ends up pooling on the ice shelf's surface and falls into cracks in the ice, melting and growing those cracks until the ice shelf breaks off into the ocean. This exact thing happened with the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 and in this study researchers identify ice shelf Larsen C as at particular risk for collapse in warmer temperatures.

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