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East Antarctica's once stable ice shelf collapses

Scientists were concerned Friday that an ice shelf as large as New York City collapsed in East Antarctica.

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East Antarctica's once stable ice shelf collapses

This area was long considered stable and not affected by climate change.

Satellite images captured the collapse. This was the first time that an ice shelf had collapsed in the region. It occurred during a rare warm spell in East Antarctica last week, when temperatures rose more than 70° (40 Celsius). Satellite photos have shown that the area has been shrinking rapidly over the past couple of years. Scientists now wonder if they are underestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming, which has been melting ice quickly on the western side and vulnerable peninsula.

Catherine Walker, an ice scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, said that the ice shelf covering 460 miles (1200 km) was responsible for holding in the Conger glaciers and Glenzer glaciers from warmer waters. It collapsed between March 14-16. This is a first for scientists in this region of the continent, she said. It is alarming.

Peter Neff, University of Minnesota Ice Scientist, stated that "The Glenzer Conger glacier shelf presumably was there for thousands of centuries and it's never going to be there again."

Neff and Walker stated that the issue is not the amount of ice that was lost during this collapse. It is negligible. It is more about where it happened.

Neff stated that he is concerned about the possibility of incorrect assumptions being made about East Antarctica's stability. This is important because sea levels around the world could rise to 160 feet (50m) if the East Antarctica water freezes. It is five times more than the ice in West Antarctic Ice Sheet where scientists have done most of their research.

Helen Amanda Fricker, codirector of Scripps Polar Center, University of California San Diego said that researchers need to spend more time studying this part of the continent.

"East Antarctica is beginning to change. Fricker stated that mass loss is already happening. "We must know the stability of each ice shelf because if one is gone, it means that glaciers melt into the warm water. This could lead to "some of that water coming to San Diego" and other areas.

Neff stated that scientists had seen this particular ice shelf, which is closest to Australia, shrink slightly since the 1970s. Walker stated that the shelf lost about half its ice each month in 2020.

Walker stated that "we probably are seeing the results of a lot long-term increased ocean heating there." It's melting and melting.

One expert still believes that East Antarctica is the only concern.

Rob Larter, British Antarctic Survey geophysicist, stated that most of East Antarctica was relatively safe and invulnerable. However there are some areas that are more vulnerable. "The general effect of climate change in East Antarctica is that it's reducing the ice sheets' edges in certain places but adding more snow to their middle."

An atmospheric river, also known as warm air, dumped a lot more heat -- and even rain -- onto parts of East Antarctica last week. This caused temperatures to soar that scientists spent the week discussing it. Australia's Casey Station is the closest station to the collapsed shelf. It was located 180 miles (300 km) away. The temperature reached 42 degrees Celsius, which was approximately 18 degrees (10 Celsius) higher than normal.

Walker stated that this was "probably something like, you're aware, the last straw on a camel's back."

Fricker, who had previously explored an East Antarctic ice shelf that was more stable, stated that the ice shelf there is "the quietest and most serene place you could imagine."


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