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East Antarctic ice shelves melting at surprising pace, study suggests

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Antarctic ice shelfSeveral small ice shelves along the East Antarctic coast appear to be melting at surprisingly high rates, some at rates comparable to those of shelves in West Antarctica, long a center of concern over the impact of climate change on the region's vast ice sheet and sea-level rise.

This is an unexpected result of a new study that documents the current status of ice shelves around Antarctica's coastline and the relative influence of the factors melting them.

It's unclear if the unexpected melt rates represent a trend. Conditions off the East Antarctic coast have been less-well studied than those off of West Antarctica, notes Stanley Jacobs, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., and a member of the team reporting its results in the current issue of the journal Science.   

The cause also is unclear. But a lead suspect is relatively warm water that deep currents drive up onto the continental shelf. This water melts the ice shelves from underneath.


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