A 110-mile-long sheet of ice is expected to break away from Antarctica's mainland in the coming weeks due to rapidly warming sea water, scientists have warned.
The rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, part of the Antarctic Peninsula, is growing faster than experts anticipated, with he temperature in the area rising 2.8C on average since 1950.
Once the ice section breaks away it will form an iceberg the size of the US state of Delaware — one of the largest ever recorded.
The collapse is likely to speed up the disintegration of the entire ice shelf, which forms the most northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, National Geographic reported.
Helen Fricker of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego told the magazine the ice shelves were "the canary in the coal mine".
They do not directly raise sea level when they melt, but their disappearance means the disintegration of the glaciers behind them accelerates. This in turn raises sea levels.
“I think it’s time for us scientists to stop being so cautious [about communicating the risks]," Professor Fricker said.
The Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches us towards South America, has experiences the warmest weather on the continent.
Warm air and water from further north mean that sea ice now forms only four months a year instead of seven.
Since 1988, four ice shelves on the east side of the peninsula have disintegrated into icebergs.
Scientists have warned that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet – a frozen sheet that rests 5,000 feet below level – were to break up and float into the ocean, it would raise sea levels by around 10 feet.
This would mean coastal areas around the world would be submerged.
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