Science

West Antarctic Shelf Breaking Up: What It Means

By Rodney Rafols , Nov 29, 2016 09:40 AM EST
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Global warming has been threatening the Poles. As the planet warms, the oceans become warm as well. This has affected the Poles so much that there has been lesser ice in them now. The West Antarctic Shelf is breaking up, and there is much as to what its implication means to many people.

With the oceans getting warm, the ice in the Polar regions are melting. One of those that is being affected by it is the West Antarctic Shelf. The implication its breakup is big, as it could add much to ocean levels. This will eventually cause many coastal areas to be invaded by the sea. Many coastal communities would be lost as a result of this.

Researchers from the Ohio State University noticed a rift forming at the base of the ice shelf. This rift formed inland in 2013, and went on upwards until in 2015 the ice shelf broke off. Ian Howat, the study's lead author and associate professor of Earth Sciences said that it is simply a question of when will the whole ice sheet would melt. He has further noted that West Antarctica might eventually collapse in our lifetime.

It is not only the West Antarctica that is affected, but Greenland as well. Researchers have noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet is being affected in the same way. Ocean water coming through the bedrock is slowly melting much of the ice there, according to UPI.

Howat explained that rifts usually happen at the margins of the ice sheet. However in both cases the rift has happened at the center of the ice shelf and slowly went to its margins. He said that it is likely caused by bedrock that has been warmed by ocean water, and weakening the ice there.

Scientists have long suspected that ocean water has come inland and has been largely unseen, as Phys Org reports. That is because the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is below sea level, and sea water can easily penetrate it undetected. The Pine Island Glacier rift would have been undetected as well if satellite images have not been carefully studied.

Should the Western Antarctica Ice Shelf fully collapse, sea levels could rise to as high as 10 feet. Much of the world's fresh water is in Antarctica, and if its ice melts its effects would be catastrophic. The West Antarctic Shelf is breaking up, and this is what its implication means. The Arctic is also in danger, as temperatures there have slowly risen over the years.

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