Climate change: 4C temperature increase could risk major collapse of ice surrounding Antarctica, scientists say
Scientists at the University of Reading found that a third of ice sheets around the Antarctic could melt if temperatures increase.
Ice surrounding Antarctica could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures increase by 4C, experts warn.
Research from the University of Reading found that more than a third of the Antarctic ice shelf area could collapse and release “unimaginable amounts” of water into the sea.
The scientists said that limiting the temperature rise to 2C could potentially halve the area at risk and avoid a drastic rise in sea level.
The findings suggest that 4C warming could leave 34% of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves – around half a million square kilometres – at risk of collapse.
Ice shelves are permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass and most ice shelves surround the coast of Antarctica.
Dr Ella Gilbert from the University of Reading said: “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.
“We know that, when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly.
“Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”
Dr Gilbert added the research highlights the importance of limiting the global temperature increases as set out in the Paris Agreement, by limiting global warming to below 2C above pre-industrial levels.
As part of their modelling study, the researchers also identified that Larsen C – the largest remaining ice shelf on the peninsula – would be particularly at risk in a warmer climate.
They said other ice shelves facing this threat include Shackleton, Pine Island and Wilkins.
Dr Gilbert added: “If temperatures continue to rise at current rates, we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades.
“Limiting warming will not just be good for Antarctica – preserving ice shelves means less global sea-level rise, and that’s good for us all.”
Separate research conducted by Durham University has found that melting ice sheets have caused enormous sea-level rises.
The study found that melting ice caps have pushed oceans around the world higher by up to 18 metres.
In February, an iceberg the size of Bedfordshire has broken off from Antarctica, near a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) station.
The 1,270km2, 150 metre-thick chunk of frozen water separated from the Brunt Ice Shelf.