Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the stability of the continent could be at risk by 2100, scientists have warned.
Widespread collapse of Antarctic ice shelves, floating extensions of land ice projecting into the sea, could pave the way for dramatic rises in sea level.
The research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050.
By the end of the century, the melting rate could surpass the point associated with ice shelf collapse, it has been claimed.
If that happened, a natural barrier to the flow of ice from glaciers and land-covering ice sheets into the oceans would be removed.
Lead scientist Luke Trusel of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said: “Our results illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate.
“This has already occurred in places like the Antarctic Peninsula, where we’ve observed warming and abrupt ice shelf collapses in the last few decades.
“Our model projections show that similar levels of melt may occur across coastal Antarctica near the end of this century, raising concerns about future ice-shelf stability.”
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was based on satellite observations of ice surface melting and climate simulations up to the year 2100.
It showed if greenhouse gas emissions continued at their present rate, the Antarctic ice shelves would be in danger of collapse by the century’s end.
Under a reduced-emission scenario, the ice melting was brought under control after 2050.
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