4 Apr 2009

Ice shelves melting even faster than reckoned

9:39 pm on 4 April 2009

One Antarctic ice shelf has quickly vanished, another is disappearing and glaciers are melting faster than anyone thought - because of climate change.

American and British government researchers reported on Friday that the Wordie ice shelf, which had been disintegrating since the 1960s, is gone and the northern part of the Larsen ice shelf no longer exists. More than 8300 square km of ice has broken off from the Larsen shelf since 1986.

Climate change is to blame, according to the report by the US Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey.

"This continued and often significant glacier retreat is a wake-up call that change is happening ... and we need to be prepared," USGS glaciologist Jane Ferrigno, who led the Antarctica study, said in a statement.

"Antarctica is of special interest because it holds an estimated 91% of the Earth's glacier volume, and change anywhere in the ice sheet poses significant hazards to society."

As glaciers and ice sheets melt, they can raise overall ocean levels and swamp low-lying areas.

Arctic ice melting faster as well

In a separate statement, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said: "The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing - more rapidly than previously known - as a consequence of climate change."

In another report, published in the journal Geophysical Letters, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that ice is melting much more rapidly than expected in the Arctic as well.