Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell

Journal: Nature

Published: 2018-06-13

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1

Affiliations: 7

Authors: 6

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Research Highlight

Breaking the ice through global warming

© Education Images/Getty

© Education Images/Getty

The loss of sea ice in Antarctica due to global warming may accelerate the break-up of massive ice shelves, scientists have found.

The break-up of ice shelves in Antarctica is a concern because it can raise sea levels around the globe, leading to increased flooding of low-lying areas. Climate scientists have found several mechanisms by which global warming can increase the frequency of such events.

Now, a team of six scientists, including a mathematical modeller from the University of Adelaide, has found a mechanism that had not been considered previously. They found that sea ice acts as a buffer that protects the ice shelves from the onslaught of ocean waves. As this buffer is removed due to rising temperatures, wave action will cause the edges of the ice shelves to flex, making them more vulnerable to break-up.

This effect is expected to increase global sea levels faster than previous predictions that did not account for it.

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  1. Nature 558, 383–389 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1
Institutions Share
Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), Australia 0.17
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), United States of America (USA) 0.17
School of Mathematical Sciences, Adelaide Uni, Australia 0.17
University of Otago, New Zealand 0.17
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), CU-Boulder, United States of America (USA) 0.17
Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), AWE, Australia 0.08
BOM Tasmania Office, Australia 0.08