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Antarctic ice safety band at risk

08 February 2016

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Antarctica is surrounded by huge ice shelves. New research, using ice velocity data from satellites such as ESA's heritage Envisat, has revealed that there is a critical point where these shelves act as a safety band, holding back the ice that flows towards the sea. If lost, it could be the point of no return.

These floating ice shelves can be enormous. For example, the largest, the Ross Ice Shelf, is about the area of Spain and towers hundreds of metres above the waterline.

Over the past 20 years, many of Antarctica's northernmost ice shelves have thinned and in some cases even disappeared as large icebergs calve from the fronts.

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