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Antarctic ice sheets melting faster than previous estimates

Date: 31 May 2020 Tags: Climate Change


Antarctic ice sheets retreated at speeds of up to 50 meters (164 feet) a day at the end of the last Ice Age, about ten times quicker than the fastest retreating sheets of today, researchers have found.



Researchers warn that, should climate change carry on weakening ice shelves in coming decades, we could soon see similar levels of ice retreat, with huge implications for global sea levels.



  • The Larsen Ice Shelf originally covered an area of 33,000 square miles, but has shrunk dramatically as air temperatures warmed in the second half of the 20th century.

  • Sections of the shelf have disintegrated and broken away, and in 2017 around 12% of the remaining lower middle section of the shelf broke away as a single massive iceberg.

  • Using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) operating about 60 meters (197 feet) above the seabed, researchers studied ridges on the seafloor, which had been created by ice squeezing sediment on the sea bed as it moved and began to float.

  • By examining the footprint of the ice sheet and sets of ridges on the seafloor, the team was able to find new evidence of past ice retreats.

  • Warmer summer temperatures are chiefly to blame for this ice loss. The warm temperatures have melted ice from the surface of the glaciers and ice sheets.

  • Experts say this new study shows that, given the speed at which the ice retreated in the past, the future rate of change and ice retreat could be significantly greater than previously thought.

  • Experts have warned that over the next three decades, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are at risk of losing their homes as entire cities sink under rising seas.

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