Wilkins ice shelf near final collapse

Posted: April 6, 2009 in environment, science & technology
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wilkins

A bit more than a year ago I posted a comprehensive article on the continuing breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf in the Antarctica. The last few days brought us the news of the shelf moving closer to its final collapse , with the remaining small bridge that connects it to the main ice mass disintegrating. The following article from The Age in Melbourne is one of the many currently circulating in the Net.

Andrew Darby, The Age
April 6, 2009 – 4:04PM

A thin ice bridge between two islands that has held the giant Wilkins ice shelf in place on the Antarctic peninsula for centuries appears to be near final collapse.

In a development that has shocked climate scientists, the 40 kilometre-long bridge is showing new rifts along its length and its imminent break-up could release thousands of square kilometres of ice behind it.

This would mark a new milestone for one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth.

European Space Agency scientists have been closely watching the ice shelf, named after Australian aviator Hubert Wilkins, since March last year when it suddenly lost 570 square kilometres of ice in what US glaciologists called a “runaway disintegration”.

Ted Scambos, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, said the Southern Ocean was warming in the region and melting the floating ice sheet from below.

Until now the narrow ice bridge between Charcot and Latady islands has held in place. But ESA images, the latest from April 2, clearly show the rifts lengthening.

Behind the ice bridge, the Wilkins has already begun to break up into thousands of icebergs. Dr Scambos believes the collapse may not halt until the ice shelf, once 13,680 square kilometres in size, is at least halved.

The Wilkins is the latest of seven great ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula to let go – and the furthest south towards the main polar ice sheets. Melting of floating ice does not raise sea level, but its loss releases land-bound ice behind it.

Scientists have been warning of danger to the peninsula ice shelves since March 2002 when the collapse of Larsen B took away 3250 square kilometres of 220-metre thick ice in just 35 days.

Click on these links for further information:

Australian Antartic Division
A New Ice Age

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