Massive regions of the ice sheet that makes up West Antarctica have begun collapsing in a process that scientists have worried about for decades and fear is likely unstoppable.Researchers warned that the accelerated pace of disintegration is expected to remain relatively slow over the next 100 years, although after that point it will speed up so fast that it could become a major issue for seaside cities. Ocean levels could rise by at least three meters, according to two papers scheduled for publication this week in the Science and Geophysical Research Letters.“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, chief of the NASA program on polar ice, told the New York Times Monday. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”The authors of both papers conclude that the cause of the melting is warm water swelling up from the depths of the ocean and warming the ice sheet from below. The disintegration is not being caused by slowly-warming air temperatures, although intensifying winds are contributing to the problems by pushing the warm water through West Antarctica.
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