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The catastrophic collapse of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet is underway, researchers said today. The biggest glaciers in West Antarctica are hemorrhaging ice without any way to stem the loss, according to two independent studies. The unstoppable retreat is the likely start of a long-feared domino effect that could cause the entire ice sheet to melt, whether or not greenhouse gas emissions decline. The vast glaciers of western Antarctica are shrinking and losing ice to the sea at a runaway pace and have almost certainly "passed the point of no return," according to new work by two separate teams of scientists. The likely result: a rise in global sea levels of four feet or more in the coming centuries, says research made public Monday by scientists at the University of Washington, the University of California-Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It really is an amazingly distressing situation," says Pennsylvania State University glaciologist Sridhar Anandakrishnan, who was not affiliated with either study.