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Research finds unstable zones in East Antarctica’s ice sheet

According to new research led by the University of Western Australia Weaknesses deep within the Earth’s largest ice sheet in Antarctica could lead to a rapid rise in sea levels of two metres or more unless global temperature increases are kept to a minimum.

Using ice-penetrating radar, magnetic and gravity data, scientists mapped glacial erosion beneath the ice. Two unstable zones were found, where the ice sheet was prone to rapid collapse, and the study showed that these had repeatedly caused unstable retreat of the ice sheet by hundreds of kilometres.

Dr Alan Aitken, from UWA’s School of Earth and Environment, said “If this was to happen again, with a warmer climate than today’s, it could lead to a rapid rise in sea levels of at least two metres,” he said. “There is a significant risk of this occurring unless global temperatures are kept within a few degrees of present.”

Dr Aitken said the study looked at the landscape evolution and past history of ice sheet change of the gigantic Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, the outlet for one of the world’s largest ice catchments.

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