One of Antarctica's mammoth ice shelves has just one last intact section, and it's likely to disintegrate altogether in the next few years and make the world's sea levels rise even more, according to a NASA study released Thursday.
"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," commented Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and co-author of the study, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
NASA focused on a section of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which was around for about 10,000 years before it collapsed partly in 2002. The portion left covers just 625 square miles, or about half the size of Rhode Island.
Antarctica's largest ice shelf, which is fed by glaciers and hangs over the sea on the continent's coastline, is about the size of France, reports The Guardian.
The Larsen B ice shelf is in a section of the Antarctic Peninsula that stretches toward the southern tip of South America, marking one of the areas where ice is thinning, the report says.
According to the study's lead scientist, a widening crack in the ice shelf will break it apart in around 2020, and after that time, glaciers that are held up by the ice shelf will flow into the ocean and raise the sea levels. The shelf's rift is being blamed on global warming.
Already, the two main tributary glaciers on the ice shelf, Leppard and Flask, have thinned by between 65 and 72 feet, and have shrunk even more since the ice shelf collapsed partly in 2002.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that most of the planet's warming has occurred because of human activities, including the creation of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
The NASA findings were based on airborne surveys and radar data, the report said.
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