Experts warn one of world's largest glaciers is more vulnerable than previously thought
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Featured Image Credit: Robert Larter/British Antarctic Survey / UW (University of Washington)/YouTube
Experts have sent out a warning that one of the world's largest glaciers is more vulnerable to completely disintegrating than first thought.
A study led by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) found that a mighty glacier is at greater risk of 'complete disintegration' than people thought.
The Pine Island glacier in Antarctica is about the same size as England, and is responsible for roughly a quarter of all ice lost from the frozen continent of the southern pole, or about 13,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of water.
What maintains this fragile and threatened ecosystem is the ice shelf, the part of the glacier which floats on the sea and controls the flow of ice from the Pine Island glacier into the world's oceans.
Scientists had already observed a couple of ways that these natural defences were being weakened over time, and now further study has revealed that the problem is worse than we originally knew.
If the situation gets worse it could mean rising sea levels and further knock-on events which would spell even more trouble for Antarctica, not to mention the rest of the world.
Experts had previously found two ways in which the Pine Island ice shelf is getting more fragile to the point that it's at risk of collapsing.
The first was enhanced thinning in the ice shelf as more ice melts away and falls into the sea, meaning the ice that holds the glacier together was getting weaker.
The second was an increase in events where large chunks of ice break away from the glacier and go on to form icebergs, this is known as calving.
Put together these two factors add up into a potentially disastrous outcome for one of the world's largest glaciers as big chunks of ice keep falling away and the ice shelf which holds it together is getting weaker.
Now the BAS experts have discovered that these problems are going to have an even worse impact than original predictions.
Dr Alex Bradley, lead author on the study, explained that more calving events meant a thinner ice shelf, which in turn led to even more calving events as the ice shelf got even weaker.
He said: "This study highlights the extreme sensitivity of ice shelves to climate change.
"It shows the interplay between calving and melting can promote disintegration of the Pine Island Ice Shelf, which we already thought was vulnerable to collapse."
"Complete disintegration of the Pine Island Ice Shelf will have profound consequences not only for the glacier but all of West Antarctica as it is thought to play an integral role in maintaining the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet."
If it collapses then it could lead to sea levels rising by 1.6 feet (0.5 metres), leading to major changes for coastal regions and none of them good.
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