An area of ice the size of Rhode Island disappeared from ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula in 1998. This ice holds back the many glaciers that feed into the area, and its loss threatens to destabilize the continental ice sheets that cover the Antarctic continent.
Satellite photos show that 1,200 square miles of ice disappeared from the Larsen-B Ice Shelf during the last Antarctic summer. The Wilkins Ice Shelf on the other side of the peninsula lost 900 square miles of ice. It is considered probable by scientists that the entire Larsen-B ice shelf will disintegrate during the next Antarctic summer.
The melting of shelf ice that is already floating will not cause sea levels to rise, but if the glaciers now being held back by the Larsen ice slide into the sea, world sea levels will rise anywhere from a few inches to twenty feet, depending on how much new ice enters the ocean.
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