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 sees Tropical Cyclone 15S meandering in Mozambique Channel

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pleurobot is salamander-like robot with lifelike motion

7 hours ago

A video showing "multimodal locomotion in a bioinspired robot" has been making the rounds, and the video demonstrates advances in robotics as scientific tools as well as potential robots for search and rescue ...

Recommended for you

Stuck-in-the-mud plankton reveal ancient temperatures

8 hours ago

New research in Nature Communications showing how tiny creatures drifted across the ocean before falling to the seafloor and being fossilised has the potential to improve our understanding of past climat ...

NASA sees Mozambique Channel's new tropical storm

9 hours ago

Tropical Cyclone 15S formed in the Mozambique Channel of the Southern Indian Ocean, and the Global Precipitation Measurement or GPM core satellite gathered data on its rainfall rates.

How rain is dependent on soil moisture

9 hours ago

It rains in summer most frequently when the ground holds a lot of moisture. However, precipitation is most likely to fall in regions where the soil is comparatively dry. This is the conclusion reached by ...

ESA image: Hungarian mosaic

10 hours ago

This image of Hungary, with the political border in white, is a mosaic of 11 scans by Sentinel-1A's radar from October to December 2014.

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.