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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February, 2005, 11:28 GMT
Antarctic's ice 'melting faster'
Iceberg  (AP)

A team of UK researchers claims to have new evidence that global warming is melting the ice in Antarctica faster than had previously been thought.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (Bas) say the rise in sea levels around the world caused by the melting may have been under-estimated.

It is thought that over 13,000 sq km of sea ice in the Antarctic Peninsula has been lost over the last 50 years.

The findings were announced at a Climate Change Conference in Exeter.

Rising sea level

Professor Chris Rapley, director of (Bas), told the conference that Antarctica could become a "giant awakened", contributing heavily to rising sea levels.

Melting in the Antarctic Peninsula removes sea ice that once held back the movement of glaciers. As a result, glaciers flow into the ocean up to six times faster than before.

The other region in the continent affected by the changes is West Antarctica, where warmer sea water is thought to be eroding the ice from underneath.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted the average global sea level would rise by between 11cm (4.3in) and 77cm (30.3in) by 2100 - but forecast that Antarctic's contribution would be small.

Ice chunks

Over the past five years, studies have found that melting Antarctic ice caps contribute at least 15% to the current global sea level rise of 2mm (0.08in) a year.

It is not known whether the melting is the result of a natural event or the result of global warming.

Professor Rapley said that if this was natural variability, it might be expected to be taking place in only a handful of places. However, studies had shown that it was happening in all three major ice streams in West Antarctica, he added.

Several major sections of Antarctic ice have broken off in the past decade.

The Larsen A ice shelf, which measured 1,600 sq km, broke off in 1995. The 1,100 sq km Wilkins ice shelf fell off in 1998 and the 13,500 sq km Larsen B dropped away in 2002.

What the scientists have discovered

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