Scientists are studying the ice shelves in Antartica to find information about the melting ice. This information allows researchers to know how much time we have before these unstable ice shelves collapse and dissolve into the ocean, raising water levels and flooding coastal cities and low lying islands.
One of the major projects to study ice shelves is the Pine Island Glacier project, which is conducted by NASA. Ice shelves in the cold waters of the Antarctic prevent the much larger ice sheets over Antarctica from sliding off of the continent. When the ice shelves melt, the ice sheets slide off the land toward the ocean at a much faster speed, fall into the ocean and melt, raising worldwide sea levels.
Information on the mechanisms involved in the melting of ice shelves provides information on preventing the rise of global sea levels. The ice sheets are held in place by these ice shelves, so improving their blocking ability would be helpful, if it is possible to do so. NASA believes that the main source of energy that is melting the ice shelves is warm water currents. Ice is also more likely to melt if it is coated with dark particles, such as coal dust and ash from manufacturing, a significant factor in the Canadian north. Finding the factories in the path of air currents that blow dust onto these glaciers and reducing their particle emissions would be helpful.
Data recorded by the University of Illinois shows a large drop in seasonal sea ice over the last hundred years. The drop is accelerating and is very sharp in the last few years. Sea ice does oscillate over the seasons so a change from year to year is not as important as the overall trend.
Increased strong storms also affect the sea ice, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Even if the warm water flows do not completely melt the ice shelves, they are still weakened, and may be broken off during storms. As the shelves might remain in place until the storm waves batter them, this increases the chance of a catastrophic event where large amounts of ice fall into the sea at once, without providing a gradual change in sea level that coastal residents can notice and prepare to withstand.