As the planet warms, more than one-third of the Antarctic ice shelf is at risk of collapse
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Research found that all Antarctica ice shelf area is 34%, about 500,000 square kilometers, including Antarctica 67% of the ice shelf area on the peninsula will face the risk of instability when the temperature rises by 4°C. Limiting the temperature rise to 2°C instead of 4°C will halve the area at risk and potentially avoid a significant rise in sea levels. The researchers also determined that the largest remaining ice shelf on the Larsen C Peninsula, which split in 2017 to form the huge A68 iceberg, is one of the four ice shelves that will be particularly threatened during climate warming.
Dr. Ella Gilbert, a research scientist in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said that ice shelves are an important buffer to prevent glaciers on land from freely flowing into the ocean and causing sea level rise. When they collapsed, it was like a huge cork pulled out of the bottle, allowing an unimaginable amount of water from the glacier to pour into the sea. When melted ice accumulates on the surface of the ice shelf, it can fracture and collapse the ice shelf spectacularly.
These findings highlight the importance of limiting global temperature rise in the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise. The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, uses the most advanced high-resolution regional climate models to predict the effects of melting and increased water runoff on ice shelf stability in more detail than before. Under the conditions of global warming at 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C, scientists have predicted the fragility of the ice shelf caused by this fracture process, which is possible in this century.
Every summer, after the ice on the surface of the ice shelf melts, it flows into a small gap in the snow layer below, where it re-freezes. However, in years when there is a lot of melting but little snowfall, water will accumulate or flow into the cracks on the surface, deepening and expanding the cracks, until the ice shelf eventually breaks and collapses into the sea. If water collects on the surface of the ice shelf, it indicates that it may easily collapse in this way. This is what happened on the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, which broke after a few years of warm summer temperatures. Its collapse caused the glacier behind the ice shelf to accelerate, and billions of tons of ice were lost to the sea.
Researchers have determined that Larson C, Shackleton, Pine Island and Wilkins Ice Shelf are at the greatest risk under 4℃ warming. If the temperature continues to rise at the current rate, we may More Antarctic ice shelves will be lost in the next few decades. Limiting warming is not only good for Antarctica. Protecting ice shelves means reducing global sea level rise, which is good for all of us.