Space & Innovation

Surprising Facts About the Antarctic Ice Sheet

We all have heard it's melting, but did you know the Antarctic ice sheet embeds lakes and can grow from the bottom-up?

On Thursday, the journal Nature contained some

scary news

: If greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow over the next several decades, scientists are predicting that Antarctica's ice sheet will collapse, raising global sea levels by more than 3 feet by 2100. "That is literally remapping how the planet looks from space," study co-author Rob DeConto, a geoscientist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, told Nature. Here are some facts about the planet's single biggest ice mass, and why it is so important to the planet.

Antarctica Melt May Lift Seas 3 Ft by 2100: Study

It's absolutely huge: The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers 5.4 million square miles, making it roughly the same area as the lower 48 states of the U.S. and Mexico combined. It contains 7.2 billion cubic miles. Antarctic ice amounts to 90 percent of all the ice on the planet and between 60 and 70 percent of all of the world's fresh water.

Video: Why Do We Go to Antarctica?

Snow falling at the South Pole takes about 100,000 years to "flow" to the coast of Antarctica. This vividly-hued NASA visualization shows the flow patterns.

5 Myths About Antarctic Melt

Antarctica is home to about 70 percent of the planet's fresh water, and 90 percent of the planet's freshwater ice. If the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, it could put the world's coastal cities underwater. Global sea levels would rise by about 200 feet.

10 Striking Images of Future Sea Levels

It has Antarctic megadunes. These are are long stretches filled with undulating waves in the surface of the ice sheet. One of the megadunes is bigger than California.

When the Antarctic sea ice begins to expand at the beginning of winter, it advances by around 40,000 square miles per day, and eventually doubles the size of Antarctica, adding up to an extra 4.9 million square miles of ice around the land mass.

Pressure ridges are formed in the ice sheet when shifting sea ice collides with stationary ice on land.

Antarctic Icebergs aren't sea ice. They actually are floating fragments of the ice sheet, or of Antarctic glaciers, which break off and drift out to sea.

Snow Mounts in Antarctica but Ice Loss Continues

Scientists recently found evidence that some of the ice covering Antarctica grows from the bottom up.

World's Largest Canyon Could Be Under Antarctic Ice

The Antarctic ice sheet has lakes embedded in it, which are covered by ice that's two miles thick.

Antarctic Lake May Contain Extreme Life Forms

Ice shelves, which are portions of the ice sheet, can break up with surprising speed. In 2002, the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf, which covered 1,250 square miles (3,250 square kilometers) disintegrated in a single month.

Antarctica: A Travelers Guide