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The risk of the Antarctic ice cliffs collapsing into the sea and suddenly increasing global sea levels has been exaggerated, a new study claims.
Instead, the researchers claim that even the tallest cliffs should be able to support their own weight and ice will dribble off 'like honey' as it melts.
Anchored - Ground - Beneath - Ice - Cliffs
Anchored onto the ground beneath, ice cliffs are exposed as the floating ice shelves surrounding Antarctica gradually collapse into the sea.
As there are no ice cliffs taller than 295 feet (90 metres), scientists had assumed that this represented the threshold above which cliffs crack under their own weight.
Collapse - Cliff-face - Taller - Cliffs - Theory
The collapse of one cliff-face would expose taller cliffs behind, the theory went — which would then collapse in turn in what is called a 'runaway ice sheet retreat.'
Such would cause sea levels to rapidly rise by more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) by the end of the century, flooding many coastal cities, they had cautioned.
Study - Ice - Shelves - Matter - Hours
However, the new study finds that such would only occur if the ice shelves broke apart in a matter of hours — which would be unprecedented.
Earth scientist Fiona Clerc of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues created simulations of simple ice sheets and surrounding shelves, shrinking the shelves at different speeds to see how the sheet responded.
Shelves - Kilometre - Thick - Size - Texas
'Ice shelves are about a kilometre thick, and some are the size of Texas,' said Ms Clerc.
'To get into catastrophic failures of really tall ice cliffs, you would have to remove these ice shelves within hours.'
Matter - Scenario
'[This] seems unlikely, no matter what the climate-change scenario.'
Instead, the researchers found that a more reasonable rate of ice shelf...
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