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Polar regions

Antarctic ice shelves

An Antarctic ice shelfAn Antarctic ice shelfScientists have discovered that Antarctica's floating ice shelves are thinning at an accelerating rate. Using radar satellites, measurements have been collected and studied over the last 18 years to 2015. The total loss was about 25 cubic kilometres per year for the first part of that period. But after 2003 this figure jumped to 310 cubic kilometres per year. The ice shelves of West Antarctica, where most of the thinning appears to be taking place, are so vast that, if they melted, the water released into the ocean would cause sea levels to rise globally by between one and three metres (3–10 feet).

Many of Antarctica's ice shelves—great tongues of ice that jut out from the continent into the Southern Ocean—are huge: the Ross Ice Shelf is the size of France. The ice shelves form where glacier ice runs over the edge of the continent into the sea. The ice floats, but as the shelves push further and further out, their fronts split into smaller chunks, called icebergs. This process is called calving.

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