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8 avril 2021

par University of Reading

More than a third of Antarctic sea ice is at risk of collapsing into the sea if global temperatures reach 4 ° C above pre-industrial levels, have shown new research

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The University of Reading conducted the most detailed study ever on the vulnerability of the vast floating ice shelves surrounding Antarctica to dramatic collapse events caused by melt and runoff, as climate change forces temperatures to rise.

He revealed that 34% of the area of ​​all Antarctic ice shelves – about half a million square kilometers – including 67% of the surface of the ice shelf of the Antarctic Peninsula, could become destabilized under a warming of 4 ° C. Limit the temperature rise to 2 ° C rather than 4 ° C would halve the area at risk and potentially prevent a significant rise in sea level

The researchers also identified Larsen C – largest remaining ice shelf on the peninsula, which split to form the huge iceberg A68 in 2017 – as one of the four ice shelves that would be particularly threatened in a warmer climate.

Dr. Ella Gilbert, researcher in the meteorology department at the University of Reading, said: «Ice shelves are important buffers that prevent land glaciers from freely flowing into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise. When they fall apart, it's like a giant cork taken out of a bottle, allowing unimaginable quantities of water from glaciers to flow into the sea.

“We know that when melted ice collects on the surface of ice shelves, it can cause them to fracture and collapse dramatically. Previous research has given us the big picture in terms of predicting the decline of the Antarctic sea ice, but our new study uses the latest modeling techniques to complete the finer details and provide more accurate projections.

“The results highlight the importance of limiting temperature increases around the world as outlined in the Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise”

The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used state-of-the-art high-resolution regional climate modeling to predict in more detail than before the impact of increased melt and runoff on sea ice stability.

The vulnerability of the sea ice due to this fracturing process was predicted under 1 Climate warming scenarios of 5 ° C, 2 ° C and 4 ° C, which are all possible this century

Ice shelves are permanent floating platforms of ice attached to areas of the coastline and form where glaciers flowing from the land meet the sea

Each summer, the ice on the surface of the ice shelf melts and flows into small air holes in the snow cover below, where it refreezes However, years when there is a lot of melting but little snowfall, water collects on the surface or drains into crevices, deepening and widening them until the ice floe fractures and collapses into the sea. If there is water collecting on the surface of the pack ice, this suggests that she might be vulnerable to collapse in this way

This is what happened to the Larsen B sea ice in 2002, which fractured after several years of hot summer temperatures Its collapse accelerated the glaciers behind the pack ice, losing billions of tons of ice to the sea

Researchers have identified Larsen C's ice shelves, Shackleton, Pine Island and Wilkins as most at risk under global warming 4 ° C, due to their geography and the significant runoff expected in these areas.

Dr. Gilbert declared: “If temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, we could lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the decades to come.

“Limiting warming will not only be good for Antarctica – preserving ice shelves means less rise in sea level around the world, and it's good for all of us”

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