Largest Ice Shelf in the World Melts at an Accelerated Rate

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A new study argues that a significant segment of the largest ice shelf in the world is melting up to ten times faster than it was previously thought. The solar heating of the ocean is a process which was often overlooked by previous works. It seems that it is, in fact, one of the major factors which contribute to the increased melting rate of the Ross Ice Shelf, which spreads over hundreds of miles in the Southern Ocean, covering a region which is on par with the size of France.

The sun warms the surface water during the region and through a phenomenon called down well the warm water will travel beneath the ice shelf, and expose the ice to increased temperatures. It is already known that the stability of an ice shelf could be influenced by the presence of warm water, but the researchers discovered that it plays a large role in the melting process.

Largest Ice Shelf in the World Melts at an Accelerated Rate

The Ross Ice Shelf plays a major role in the region since it slows the drainage of inland glaciers towards the ocean. In the case of a collapse, the melting of the Antarctic ice would boost the global sea level by several meters. At this point, the researchers believe that the shelf isn’t endangered. However, the rhythm at which ice melts in a region called the Ross Sea Polynya, found in the northwest boundary of the shelf, has attracted the attention of the researchers.

The area was observed over four years with the help of a sophisticated radar which was used to analyze the density of the ice shelf. Other data like temperature and salinity was also recorded as the team traveled across the shelf to obtain samples from several regions. Researchers will be able to construct better models in the future, which could be used to anticipate how ice shelves will continue to melt accurately. The study was published in a scientific journal.

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