Antarctic ice shelf 'hangs by a thread'

Mar 25, 2008

British Antarctic Survey has captured dramatic satellite and video images of an Antarctic ice shelf that looks set to be the latest to break out from the Antarctic Peninsula. A large part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula is now supported only by a thin strip of ice hanging between two islands. It is another identifiable impact of climate change on the Antarctic environment.

Scientists monitoring satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf spotted that a huge (41 by 2.5 km) km2 berg the size of the Isle of Man appears to have broken away in recent days – it is still on the move.

Glaciologist Ted Scambos from the University of Colorado alerted colleagues Professor David Vaughan and Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that the ice shelf looked at risk. After checking daily satellite pictures, BAS sent a Twin Otter aircraft on a reconnaissance mission to check out the extent of the breakout.

Professor Vaughan, who in 1993 predicted that the northern part of Wilkins Ice Shelf was likely to be lost within 30 years if climate warming on the Peninsula were to continue at the same rate, says,

“Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened. I didn’t expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread – we’ll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be.”

Jim Elliott was onboard the BAS Twin Otter to capture video of the breakout for Vaughan and colleagues. He says,

“I’ve never seen anything like this before – it was awesome. We flew along the main crack and observed the sheer scale of movement from the breakage. Big hefty chunks of ice, the size of small houses, look as though they’ve been thrown around like rubble – it’s like an explosion.”

The breakout is the latest drama in a region of Antarctica that has experienced unprecedented warming over the last 50 years. Several ice shelves have retreated in the past 30 years - six of them collapsing completely (Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and the Jones Ice Shelf.)

Professor Vaughan continues, “Climate warming in the Antarctic Peninsula has pushed the limit of viability for ice shelves further south – setting some of them that used to be stable on a course of retreat and eventual loss. The Wilkins breakout won’t have any effect on sea-level because it is floating already, but it is another indication of the impact that climate change is having on the region.“ Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado says,

"We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up."

Source: British Antarctic Survey

Explore further: Radioisotope studies show the continental crust formed 3 billion years ago

Related Stories

Under-ice rover chills with fish at aquatic exhibit

Jun 26, 2015

A school of sardines fluttered by as giant leafy kelp swayed back and forth at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Monday, June 22. At the bottom of this 188,000-gallon aquatic tank, a bright ...

Europa—attempt no landing here, but a fly-by is fine!

Jun 25, 2015

NASA has now formally started to pack its bags for the next big discovery mission, this time heading to Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Last month NASA announced the instruments that will fly on this trip and now has ...

Evolution of the Antarctic ice sheet

May 27, 2015

ULB study sheds a new light on the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet. It shows for the first time that ice rises (pinning points that keep the floating parts of ice sheets in place) are formed during the transition between ...

Sudden onset of ice loss in Antarctica detected

May 21, 2015

A group of scientists, led by a team from the University of Bristol, UK has observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The research is published today in Science.

Recommended for you

ESA image: Northwest Sardinia

Jul 03, 2015

This image over part of the Italian island of Sardinia comes from the very first acquisition by the Sentinel-2A satellite.

Experiments open window on landscape formation

Jul 02, 2015

University of Oregon geologists have seen ridges and valleys form in real time and—even though the work was a fast-forwarded operation done in a laboratory setting—they now have an idea of how climate ...

NASA image: Canadian wildfires continue

Jul 02, 2015

Canada is reeling from an early fire season this year as dozens of fires ravage at least three provinces of the country. All of the following reports are as of July 2, 2015.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

earls
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 25, 2008
Well then sew it back on!
mikiwud
1 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2008
If the ice shelf could talk it would say "This Is What I DO!"
The other 99% of Antarctica is getting colder,same as the rest of the world.
Got to keep the Headlines,last gasp of a dieing religion.
snwboardn
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2008
Miki, where are you getting your data for that statement?
mikiwud
1 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2008
snwboardn,try www.icecap.us or www.scienceandpublicpolicy.org .
www.junkscience.com covers climate change,medical and food debates.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.