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Antarctic warmth kills ice shelves.

Ice shelves along the coast of Antarctica may play the role of the canary in a coal mine when it comes to global warming. The ice shelves-floating sheets of ice extending from the coast-are extremely sensitive to changing conditions and fall apart when temperatures rise above a critical point, report David G. Vaughan and Christopher S.M. Doake of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England.

In the last 50 years, four ice shelves have collapsed along the Antarctic Peninsula. At the same time, temperatures along the peninsula have climbed 2.5[degrees]161[degrees]C, a warming rate much faster than that seen in the rest of the continent.

In the Jan. 25 Nature, Vaughan and Doake note that the ice shelves suffered when the mean annual temperature exceeded -5[degrees]161[degrees]C. This represents the limit for ice shelf existence, they claim.

The scientists cannot say whether the recent Antarctic warmth is natural or a product of greenhouse gas pollution. If the trend continues, ice shelves closer to the pole will disintegrate, they predict. If conditions cool, though, ice shelves could regrow. In the Feb. 9 Science, researchers from Austria and Argentina discuss the most recent collapse, which claimed part of the Larsen Ice Shelf in January 1995.

From this event, they conclude that ice shelves may retreat slowly at first and then fall apart rapidly after reaching a critical limit.
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Title Annotation:collapsed ice shelves along Antarctic Peninsula may be due to global warming
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 17, 1996
Words:234
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