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article imageScientists discover Antarctic ice shelf at risk of collapse

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By Kev Hedges     May 15, 2012 in Environment
Scientists have discovered a sub-glacial basin in the Antarctica region which they believe is due for imminent collapse. The previously unknown area is the size of New Jersey (7,770 sq miles).
The American and British science team discovered the presence of the basin using radar with the ability to penetrate ice while mounted on aircraft. The shelf lies beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and is at tipping point now. Its shape, texture and location have led the science team to find the shelf completely below sea level and over a mile deep in places.
Research scientists at the University of Texas found the smooth bed of ice steeps slowly toward the interior and no other region in Antarctica is more ready for change than this fresh discovery at the westerly point of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, reports TG Daily.
There is some relief to learn that if the ice were to to be lost over this newly-discovered basin then it would only raise sea levels by a very small percentage of the several meters that would occur should the whole of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet tip.
The edge of this basin lies inland from the ice sheet's grounding line. Here icebergs are flowing into the sea. But there are two particular features that have concerned the scientists; the sides of the basin are very steep, which indicates that the grounding line starts to retreat upstream, causing sea water to replace the ice, creating more ice floats. Secondly, the basin's bed on which the ice is resting is smooth. There are some "pinning points" stopping the ice from sliding. However, should these pinning points lose cohesion then the results could be significant.
Prof Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh said:
This is a significant discovery in a region of Antarctica that at present we know little about. The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves.
Scientific American magazine has just reported on how octopuses have begun settling in the seas around Antarctica. This offers scientists a rare chance to better understand how this extreme corner of the globe has changed in recent geologic history.
In a recent report in the Daily Mail, discoveries reveal that the Weddell Sea region could experience warmer ocean conditions in the next 60 years, which would provide the catalyst for ice sheet change.
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