October 17, 2008

British Team To Visit Antarctica To Assess Rising Sea Levels

Scientists from University of Edinburgh and the British Antarctic Survey said Thursday they will visit a vulnerable area of the Antarctic shelf later this year to determine if it might break apart and trigger a rise in sea levels in the coming years.

The team will drill into the ice and use radars on the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the Antarctic peninsula nearest South America. In 1995, Larsen A, a chunk of the shelf, broke off. Another part, Larsen B, broke away in 2002. The remaining Larsen C is roughly 10 times as large, about the size of Maine.

"Scientists are to survey a fragile Antarctic ice shelf to determine what effect its likely collapse could have on global sea levels," said the University of Edinburgh, adding that Larsen C might collapse "within decades."

The experiments might also resolve the cause of the Larsen A and B collapses.

Although the break-up of ice shelves does not directly affect sea levels since the ice is already floating on the ocean, past collapses indicate that inland glaciers often start sliding more rapidly into the sea, which in turn adds water and raises ocean levels.

"The glaciers behind the Larsen C are much, much larger" than behind Larsen A and B, said Andrew Shepherd of University of Edinburgh.

"They drain a much larger part of Antarctica," he said during an interview with Reuters.

"Behind the Larsen C, the reservoir of ice is about  8-12 inches of global sea level."

The team will also seek to determine if the Larsen C shelf was "collapsing because of global warming or whether localized warming is to blame."

Last year, the United Nations Climate Panel predicted global sea levels could rise by 18 to 59 centimeters by 2100, driven by climate changes that might also bring about more droughts, floods, heat waves and powerful storms.

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