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According to a new study published in Nature Geoscience Monday, we should expect to see Antarctic ice shelves melting at double the rate they are now within 35 years. That's bad news.

Researchers from Clark University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution calculated the likely scenario using satellite information and climate models. Those calculations hold if our greenhouse gas emissions rate continues at high or intermediate levels. After that, it's up to us whether we'll see the ice shelf collapse. The authors write in the study's abstract:

Under the high emissions pathway by 2100, melt on several ice shelves approaches or surpasses intensities that have historically been associated with ice shelf collapse, at least on the northeast Antarctic Peninsula.

In a statement discussing the study, Clark explained the importance of the Antarctic ice shelves:

While the melting or breakup of floating ice shelves does not directly raise sea level, ice shelves do have a “door stop” effect: They slow the flow of ice from glaciers and ice sheets into the ocean, where it melts and raises sea levels.

And the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) offer that ice sheets also affect the weather, explaining, "large high-altitude plateaus on the ice caps alter storm tracks and create cold downslope winds close to the ice surface."


We've already seen the effects of rising sea levels in the form of super storms like Hurricane Sandy, explains Climate Central.

The paper's lead author, Luke Trusel, commented that the "results illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate."

Co-author Karen Frey continued, "The data presented in this study clearly show that climate policy, and therefore the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, have an enormous control over the future fate of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves." She added, "which we must consider when assessing their long-term stability and potential indirect contributions to sea level rise."


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.