Part of the world’s largest ice shelf is melting 10 times faster than expected due to the sea warming around it, research shows.
The Ross Ice Shelf, a floating slab of Antarctic ice the size of France which juts into the ocean, is more vulnerable to global warming than previously thought.
The finding suggests that surface water heated by the sun also plays a crucial role in melting ice as well their exposure to warm deep ocean water, as is often thought.
Looking at data over the course of four years, the researchers found that this water flowed under the ice shelf, causing melt rates to almost triple in the summer.
Loss of ice shelves removes a barrier to glaciers transporting water to the ocean, allowing sea levels to rise.
The team, from Cambridge University, spent several years investigating how the Ross Ice Shelf’s north-west sector interacted with the ocean beneath it.
Former Cambridge scientist Doctor Craig Stewart, now at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) said: ‘The stability of ice shelves is generally thought to be related to their exposure to warm deep ocean water.