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Rapid Melting Causes Concern

Human-caused global warming is accelerating rapidly. West Antarctica’s ice shelves are melting at an alarming rate, with potentially devastating implications for sea level rise around the world.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, melting of these ice shelves is unavoidable. Even if the world is able to control global warming, West Antarctica will still experience substantial ocean warming and ice shelf melting.

Ice shelves are sheets of ice at the end of glaciers. They act as supports, holding ice and slowing its flow into the sea, providing an important defense against sea level rise. As ice shelves melt, they thin and lose their supporting ability.

So why is the ice melting so quickly?

Researchers linked it to something called basal melting. It occurs when warm ocean currents melt the ice from beneath.

According to CNN, “[researchers] analyzed the rate of ocean warming and ice shelf melting under different climate change scenarios. These ranged from the ambitious, where the world manages to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, to the worst-case, where humans burn large amounts of planet-heating fossil fuels.”

That is why it will make no difference if the world limits temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Climate change could still cause the ocean to warm at three times the historical rate.

“It appears that we may have lost control of the West Antarctic ice melting over the 21st century,” said Kaitlin Naughten, an ocean modeler with the British Antarctic Survey and lead author of the study.

According to researchers, the only way to really stop the rapid ice melting would be not just to cut levels of planet-heating pollution but also to remove some that has already built up.

But although this situation is dire, there is still hope in cutting fossil fuel emissions. Devastating impacts can still be avoided in other parts of Antarctica and the rest of the world.

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