Scientists have recently revealed that parts of the largest ice shelf on Earth are melting at a rate 10 times faster than previously expected, mostly due to the ocean around it heating up incredibly fast.
Dubbed the Ross Ice Shelf, this floating slab of Antarctic ice is the size of France.
Thanks to global warming, it has become more vulnerable than ever.
The new discovery suggests that the surface water located around the ice shelf is being heated up by the sun, but in addition to that, the ice shelf is beginning to melt at much faster rates due to exposure of warm deep ocean water.
Scientists analyzed data spanning back more than four years and discovered that as water flowed beneath the ice shelf, it caused it to melt at incredibly rapid rates to almost triple in the summer.
“The stability of ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their exposure to warm deep ocean water, but we’ve found that solar heated surface water also plays a crucial role in melting ice shelves,” Craig Stewart, researcher at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, said in a news release.
This is a huge issue since the loss of ice shelves eliminates barriers to glaciers that transport water into the ocean, which in turn cause sea levels to rise.
The researchers in charge of the study from Cambridge University spent several years studying how the Ross Ice Shelf’s north-west sector interacted with the ocean beneath it.
“The stability of ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their exposure to warm deep ocean water,” revealed Doctor Craig Stewart, a member of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Researchers obtained data from oceanographic mooring installed under the ice shelf.
Doctor Stewart added: ‘Climate change is likely to result in less sea ice, and higher surface ocean temperatures in the Ross Sea, suggesting that melt rates in this region will increase in the future.’
Scientists have revealed that “If the Ross Ice Shelf were to collapse, the flow of many other glaciers toward the Southern Ocean would likely accelerate.”
The results of the study have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.