Rising sea-levels could cause the Antarctic ice sheet to break up, even though the air over it will remain chilly enough to prevent significant melting for at least a century, according to a new study by a researcher from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
As part of their study, the team led by Andrew Mackintosh gauged the ice sheet's past thickness by measuring how high the ice had deposited boulders in Antarctica's Framnes Mountains during a period spanning the end of the last ice age.
Findings revealed that from 13,000 to 7000 years ago, when sea levels rose by 100 metres, the ice sheet thinned by 200 to 350 metres.
According to Mackintosh, the rising waters would have lifted the buoyant ice sheet's edges off its rocky base, causing pieces to detach and melt.
Today, meltwater from western Antarctica and Greenland is swelling oceans, so eastern Antarctica could easily experience such calving again, Mackintosh said.
"The sheet is so large that even small changes in it can have a significant impact," he added.
The study has however, not predicted how much sea levels would have to rise before the sheet's edges start to break away.
The findings appear in the journal Geology, reports New Scientist.