The Ross Sea Ice Shelf
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The Ross Sea Ice Shelf

December 22, 2005

The Ross Sea ice shelf located on the continent of Antarctica, close to the South Pole. It is the largest ice shelf on the continent, approximately the size of France.

This part of the globe is closely monitored because of its implications for global warming. During normal years, ice breaks off from the ice shelves of Antarctica during the warm season, a process known as "calving". Occasionally, a large chunk breaks off, forming an iceberg.

The loss of ice is balanced by precipitation: moisture from the atmosphere forms ice crystals on the surface. Gravity compresses these crystals into thick glacial ice, called an "ice sheet" which flows like a slow-moving river towards the ocean.

Ice is less dense than water, so when it meets the ocean, it will typically float. A large chunk of ice that is floating in the water but still attached to the land is called an "ice shelf". The point of contact between ice and water is where melting occurs.

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