Several small ice shelves along the East Antarctic coast appear to be melting at surprisingly high rates, some at rates comparable to those of shelves in West Antarctica, long a center of concern over the impact of climate change on the region's vast ice sheet and sea-level rise.
This is an unexpected result of a new study that documents the current status of ice shelves around Antarctica's coastline and the relative influence of the factors melting them.
It's unclear if the unexpected melt rates represent a trend. Conditions off the East Antarctic coast have been less-well studied than those off of West Antarctica, notes Stanley Jacobs, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., and a member of the team reporting its results in the current issue of the journal Science.
The cause also is unclear. But a lead suspect is relatively warm water that deep currents drive up onto the continental shelf. This water melts the ice shelves from underneath.