Sunday, September 6, 2015

What is happening to Antarctic ice shelves and why should we care?

Front of Ross Ice Shelf
Front of Ross Ice Shelf from research icebreaker Palmer.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Antarctic ice shelves are thinning. What are ice shelves and are they important in any way? These massive floating sheets of ice border over a third of the Antarctic coast. 

Ice shelves are not frozen ocean. That is sea ice. In the simplest notion they are floating glaciers and part of the cryosphere cycle in Antarctica and Greenland. The largest Antarctic ice shelf is the Ross Ice Shelf, about the size of Texas (or France) and formed by the merging of glaciers flowing off the Antarctic continent. This shelf for example, is hundreds of meters thick (up to two thousand feet or more) and floats over sea floor hundreds of meters deeper.

This spring Science magazine published a research study on the state of the Antarctic ice shelves1.