Hanging by an icy thread

Some 3000 kilometres due south of New Zealand, a giant Antarctic ice sheet is crumbling like a cheap supermarket pavlova.

The collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf has sparked fears of rising sea levels, but is it time to update the house insurance, or buy some water wings?

Scientists think the loss of Antarctic ice shelves such as Wilkins will let inland glaciers slide to the ocean faster, pumping vast quantities of ice into the sea and contributing to sea-level rises.

If it goes, the Wilkins Ice Shelf the size of Jamaica would become the 10th Antarctic ice shelf to recede or vanish into the sea since 1950.

Sea-level rises are also caused by thermal expansion of the oceans as they become warmer.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted a sea-level rise of up to 59 centimetres by the end of the century.

But it did not include the possible effects of melting ice sheets and said it could not yet predict the full extent of a future sea-level rise.


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