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Climate change: The Antarctic ice shelf in the line of fire

Climate change: The Antarctic ice shelf in the line of fire

These are questions often asked about Larsen C, a huge ice shelf, twice the size of Wales, attached to the eastern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula.

A dozen or so smaller floating ice platforms, mostly to the north, have either disintegrated or substantially retreated in recent decades, as the region's climate has warmed.

So it's with interest that we learn from new research that Larsen C may be more resilient than we dared hope.

Scientists have been drilling through the ice shelf, and just in front, to get at sediments that record past ice behaviour.

And what these investigations tell us is that Larsen C has maintained integrity throughout the last 10,000 years. It's had a couple of phases of retreat in previous warm spells - roughly 9,000 and 4,000 years ago - but it's never collapsed like its northern cousins.

"It's clearly a robust ice shelf; it's hung in there for a long time," says study leader Dr James Smith from the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK.

"So with that resilience we could potentially prevent a collapse if we curb carbon emissions and get a good grip on atmospheric warming. But what I would say is that Larsen C is probably as vulnerable as it's ever been in terms of the last 10,000 years because it's likely at the thinnest it's ever been over that period," he told BBC News.

Larsen C is an amalgam of ice from many glaciers that flow off the Peninsula into the Weddell Sea. There's a point - it's called the grounding line - where this protruding mass becomes buoyant and lifts up to form a wide, 300m-thick, floating wedge.

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