What remains of the last piece of one of Antarctica’s huge ice shelves could be gone by 2020, according to NASA. The main focus of a recent study is a remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which has been around for the last 10,000 years. The ice shelf collapsed in 2002, and currently covers about 625 square miles, about half the size of the state of Rhode Island.

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Ice shelves are massive floating glaciers and Antarctica has a lot of them. The largest one is currently about the size of France. The Larsen B Ice Shelf extends towards the southern tip of South America and is one of the two main places where scientists study thinning ice.

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Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, said that this study provides insights about how ice shelves farther south, which hold more land ice, will react to continued global warming. Ala Khazendar, the study’s lead scientist, said the data reveals that a “widening rift in Larsen B will eventually break it apart completely, probably around the year 2020.” Once that happens, the pieces will slip into the ocean and add to rising sea levels.

The study also found that Leppard and Flask, two main tributary glaciers of the ice shelf, have thinned by between 65 and 72 feet (20 to 22 meters) respectively in recent years, and the pace of their shrinking has accelerated since the immediate aftermath of the 2002 partial collapse of the ice shelf.

Via The Guardian

Images via ShutterstockEli Duke and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center