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Antarctic ice sheet breaks up

Date: 20-Mar-02
Country: UK

Although scientists at the British Antarctic Survey predicted four years ago the eventual disintegration of the giant Larsen B ice shelf - 3,250 square kilometres (1,255 sq mile) and 200 metres (655 feet) deep - they were astounded by the speed of the break up.

"We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering," BAS glaciologist David Vaughan said in a statement yesterday. "It is hard to believe that 500 million billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month."

The BAS is responsible for most British scientific research in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Peninsular has warmed by 2.5 degrees Centigrade over the past half century, far faster than elsewhere on the ice-bound continent or the rest of the world.

Larsen B was one of five ice shelves - huge masses of ice that are floating extensions of the ice sheets covering the land - that had been steadily shrinking because of climate change, Vaughan said.

But the break up of the ice mass would not raise sea levels because the ice was already floating, he said.

Sea levels would only be affected if the land ice behind it now began to flow more rapidly into the sea.

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