An Otago University researcher is urging people to take climate change seriously after a new study highlighted the risk of ice sheets melting.
Findings show the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during a warming period just over one million years ago.
Dr Catherine Beltran, of Otago University's Department of Marine Science and Department of Geology, says we need to be thinking more about our environment.
"It is real. We need to take it really seriously today because it is happening," says Dr Beltran.
The study highlights the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice sheet to ocean warming. It used biomarkers to reconstruct past ocean temperatures, along with computer model ice sheets.
The study found one million years ago the water temperature of the ocean surrounding Antarctica was on average 5C warmer than today.
"Our work shows that very mild ocean warming, like what is happening right now, was the precursor of past ice retreat and that we should really worry about it today," says Dr Beltran.
The research echoes multiple other reports warning of the consequences of climate change.
Last week scientists warned the planet was edging dangerously close to a "tipping point", which once crossed would lead Earth past a point where damage to the planet could be undone.