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: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Microbial 'signature' for sexual crimes

7 hours ago

Bacterial communities living on an individual's pubic hairs could be used as a microbial 'signature' to trace their involvement in sexual assault cases, according to a study published in the open access journal Investigative Ge ...

Brazil: Google fined in Petrobras probe

8 hours ago

A Brazilian court says it has fined Google around $200,000 for refusing to intercept emails needed in a corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Atari's 'E.T.' game joins Smithsonian collection

9 hours ago

One of the "E.T." Atari game cartridges unearthed this year from a heap of garbage buried deep in the New Mexico desert has been added to the video game history collection at the Smithsonian.

Sony threatens to sue for publishing stolen emails

9 hours ago

A lawyer representing Sony Pictures Entertainment is warning news organizations not to publish details of company files leaked by hackers in one of the largest digital breaches ever against an American company.

Microsoft builds support over Ireland email case

9 hours ago

Microsoft said Monday it had secured broad support from a coalition of influential technology and media firms as it seeks to challenge a US ruling ordering it to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland.

Recommended for you

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

22 hours ago

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

23 hours ago

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

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.