A number of floating ice shelves in Antarctica are at risk of disappearing entirely in the next two centuries due to global warming, a new report has said.
Their collapse would enhance the discharge of ice into the oceans and increase the rate at which sea-level rises.
A rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could save a number of these ice shelves, researchers at Utrecht University and the British Antarctic Survey said.
Back in 1995 and 2002, two floating ice shelves in the north of the Antarctic Peninsula (Larsen A and B) suddenly collapsed - each event occurred in a matter of weeks.
"This was a spectacular event, especially when you imagine the size of these ice shelves, which are several hundreds of metres thick, and have been in place for over 10,000 years," lead author Dr Peter Kuipers Munneke said.
The team of researchers suspected that the disappearance of the snow layer on top of the ice shelves could be an important precursor for shelf collapse.
Their calculations confirm this hypothesis, and show that many more ice shelves could disappear in the next 200 years.
The scientists believed the snow layer plays an important role in regulating the effect of meltwater lakes on the ice shelves.
The study is published in the Journal of Glaciology.