A group of researchers warned that ice melting in Antarctica at a dramatic rate could put the stability of the whole continent at risk by 2100. Like a "cork in a bottle," if ice shelves in Antarctica continuously collapsed and melted, it would theoretically cause ice to pour more and more into the ocean, and sea levels will rise at about 200 feet, a scientist says.

Scientists believe that studying ice shelves in Antarctica–those large, floating ice structures that measure about hundreds of square miles and form where an ice sheet overlaps with the ocean–would help understand how vital they are to the future effects of climate change.

In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, lead researcher Dr. Luke Trusel and his colleagues conducted a study to see how rising air temperatures affect surface melting in Antarctica. He says that it can directly influence the destabilizing of ice shelves.

When ice melts on a shelf's surface, the melted ice starts to pool and trickle into cracks in the ice shelf. These cracks will widen, and eventually collapse. The force will unleash a flow of ice to follow.

"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," Trusel said.

Researchers tried to look into two different trajectories in which the climate scenarios could possibly lead to. The first trajectory included the continuous rise in greenhouse gas emissions, while the second trajectory included a possible decline in the emissions.

In both scenarios, researchers predict that ice surface melting would still be doubled by 2050. The natural barrier that prevents the flow of ice from glaciers and land-covered ice sheets would be removed.

After the middle of the century, scientists say that the projections for each scenario vary. In the first scenario, melting will continue rapidly, and it may eventually hit a rate of more than 600 gigatons per year by 2100. Meanwhile, the second scenario is more positive, albeit still too far to achieve, as melting will not increase much after 2050.

Trusel is careful to note that their projections "do not foretell ice shelf collapse." It still is uncertain how ice shelves will respond to future occurrences of melting.

Meanwhile, researchers hope that future studies will focus on how the collapse of ice shelves in the future can forecast the rise of sea-level.

Photo : NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr

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