Scientists claim the world's largest ice shelf, the size of France, is 10 times faster than expected because of the sea warming around it. |
Research Suggests the Ross Ice Shelf, a floating weak of Antarctic ice, which is several hundred meters thick, is more vulnerable to global warming than previously thought.
Loss of ice shelves removes and barrier to glaciers transporting water to the ocean, allowing sea levels to rise.
A four-year study by a team at Cambridge University investigated how the northwest portion of the ice interacted with the ocean beneath it.
Former Cambridge Scientist Dr Craig Stewart said: "The stability of the ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their warm deep ocean water, but we've found that solar water surface also plays a crucial role in melting ice shelves."
The temperature, salinity, melt rate and ocean currents were measured using instruments passed through a 260m (850ft) borehole.
An oceanographic mooring installed under the ice shelf was also used to collect data and a custom-made radar system was used to survey the changing thickness of the ice.
The team found that surface water heated by the sun flowing into the cavity under the ice shelf, causing melt rates to almost triple in the summer.
Dr Stewart added: "Climate change is likely to result in less sea ice, and higher surface ocean temperatures in Ross Sea, suggesting melt rates in this region will increase in the future."
Co-author of Dr Poul Christoffersen, from the Cambridge University's Scott Polar Research Institute, is a pointed out that the ice shelves can be double or triple at which glaciers flow to the ocean.
"The difference here is the size of the Ross Ice Shelf, which is over 100 times larger than the ice shelves we've seen before.
"The observations we made at the front of the ice shelf have direct implications for many large glaciers that flow into the ice shelf, some as far as 900 kilometers (559 miles) away."
They are published in the latest addition to the journal Nature Geoscience.