How ice shelves melt

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Science  05 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6214, pp. 1180-1181
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0886

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Nobody lives permanently in Antarctica. At first glance, studies of Antarctic climate might thus seem like a curiosity without obvious societal implications. Yet, if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea level would rise by 4.8 m, with major effects on coastal populations. Two studies published earlier this year offered convincing evidence that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is indeed melting irrevocably (1, 2). What are the processes behind this melting? On page 1227 of this issue, Schmidtko et al. (3) show that the water flowing under the ice shelves has warmed in recent decades and that upwelling winds at the continental shelf break may contribute to this process.