More than a third of the vast floating ice platforms surrounding Antarctica could be at risk of collapsing and releasing “unimaginable amounts” of water into the sea if global temperatures reach 4 ° C above pre-industrial levels, British scientists say.
Researchers at the University of Reading said limiting the rise in temperature to 2C could halve the risk zone and avoid a drastic rise in sea level.
The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggest that warming with 4C could leave 34% of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves ̵
Ice shelves are permanent floating layers of ice that connect to land; most surround the shores of Antarctica.
Ella Gilbert, a researcher in the meteorological department at the University of Reading, said: “Ice shelves are important buffers that prevent glaciers from flowing freely into the ocean and contribute to rising sea levels. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork taken out of 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 cause them to break and collapse spectacularly.
“Previous research has given us a broader picture in terms of predicting the decline of the Antarctic ice shelf. But our new study uses the latest modeling techniques to fill in the finer details and provide more accurate estimates. “
Gilbert said the team’s work underscores the importance of limiting global warming, as outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, which promotes a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to less than 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels.
As part of their modeling study, the researchers also identified Larsen C, the peninsula’s largest remaining ice shelf, as particularly at risk in warmer climates. They said other ice shelves facing the threat include Shackleton, Pine Island and Wilkins.
Gilbert said: “If temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades. Limiting warming will not only be good for Antarctica – maintaining ice shelves means less global sea level rise, and that is good for all of us.