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Spy satellites reveal early start to Antarctic ice shelf collapse

Declassified images suggest ice flow sped up long before previously thought

By
7:00am, June 7, 2016
Photograph of the Larsen B ice shelf

ICE SPY  Declassified photographs snapped in the 1960s by spy satellites suggest that Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf (shown here in 1963) began deteriorating decades before its 2002 collapse.

The biggest ice shelf collapse on record was set in motion years earlier than previously thought, new research reveals.

Analyzing declassified images from spy satellites, researchers discovered that the downhill flow of ice on Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf was already accelerating as early as the 1960s and ’70s. By the late 1980s, the average ice velocity at the front of the shelf was around 20 percent faster than in the preceding decades, the researchers report in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Rising temperatures since the 1950s probably quickened the ice flow, which in turn put more strain on the ice and further weakened the shelf, says study coauthor Hongxing Liu, a geographer at the University of Cincinnati. Previous work had suggested that the ice shelf’s downward slide began only a few years before a Rhode Island-sized region of ice

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