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World's biggest ice sheet is stable

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June 27

Wellington, New Zealand - An ice sheet in Antarctica that is the world's largest with enough water to raise global sea levels by 200 feet is relatively stable and poses no immediate threat, according to new research.

While studies of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets show they are both at risk from global warming, the East Antarctic ice sheet will "need quite a bit of warming" to be affected, Andrew Mackintosh, a senior lecturer at Victoria University, said.

The air over the East Antarctic ice sheet, an ice mass more than 1,875 miles across and up to 2.5 miles thick centered on the South Pole, will remain cold enough to prevent significant melting in the near future, the New Zealand-led research shows.

"The East Antarctic ice sheet is the largest and the coldest and is going to be the last to respond in any great way" to global warming, he said. "Our research suggests changes in sea levels due to global warming will not be caused by changes in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet yet."

The researchers found that from 13,000 to 7,000 years ago, when sea levels rose by more than 330 feet, the East Antarctic ice sheet thinned by 660 feet to 1,150 feet. Rising waters during that period would have lifted the buoyant ice sheet's edges off its rocky base, causing pieces to detach or "calve" and melt.

If the sheet experienced such calving again, even small changes could have a significant impact, the researchers said.


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