A massive Antarctic ice shelf will be gone within a matter of years, warns US space agency NASA.
"This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone," said Ala Khazendar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He predicts that the ice of the Larsen B shelf is melting so quickly that it will be gone before 2020.
Climate change has accelerated the ice melt far beyond what scientists had predicted for the 625-square-mile 1,600-foot thick shelf.
"What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place," said Khazendar. "Change has been relentless. Although it's fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it's bad news for our planet."
NASA warns that ice shelves are the "gatekeepers" for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. "Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise," the agency notes.
The Larsen B partially collapsed in 2002. It's now developing major cracks, and two of its tributary glaciers also are flowing faster and rapidly thinning.