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Ocean swells from storms cause the collapse ice shelves, when sea ice is reduced

The collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002 Photo: NASA

Storm-driven ocean swells, during periods of reduced sea ice coverage, caused the collapse of five major ice shelves between 1995-2009, according to new research published in Nature. 

Lead author Dr Rob Massom, of the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, said that reduced sea ice coverage since the late 1980s led to increased exposure of ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula to ocean swells, causing them to flex and break.

“Sea ice acts as a protective buffer to ice shelves, by dampening destructive ocean swells before they reach the ice shelf edge,” Dr Massom said.

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