The last intact section of one of Antarctica’s biggest ice shelves is weakening fast and will likely disintegrate completely in the next few years, contributing further to rising sea levels, according to a NASA study released on Thursday.
The research focused on the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which has existed for at least 10,000 years but partially collapsed in 2002. What is left covers about 625 sq miles (1,600 sq km), about half the size of Rhode Island.
Antarctica has dozens of ice shelves massive, glacier-fed floating platforms of ice that hang over the sea at the edge of the continent’s coast line. The largest is roughly the size of France.
Eric Rignot co-author of the study explained:
This study of the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers provides insights about how ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate.
The data reveals that a widening rift in Larsen B will eventually break it apart completely, probably around the year 2020. Once that happens glaciers held in place by the ice shelf will slip into the ocean at an accelerated rate – causing sea levels to rise even faster.
Almost 200 countries are set to negotiate a United Nations (UN) agreement by the end of 2015 to combat global climate change, which most scientists are in consensus will bring about more adverse and erratic weather.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cited a probability of at least 95% that accelerated warming of the planet has been triggered by human activities, led by atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.