Antarctic ice shelf collapses

Published: Wednesday 30 April 2008

Disintegrating Wilkins ice she (Credit: BRITISH ANTARCTIC SURVEY)The British Antarctic Survey has released images showing a sizable part of the Wilkins ice shelf off the Antarctic peninsula "hanging by a thread". It is holding on to a thin strip of ice attached to the main island and scientists worry it might collapse soon.

Remote sensing experts noticed the first evidence for a large crack in the Wilkins ice shelf in July 2007. A massive chunk of ice, about 42-km long, started to break away in February this year, by the end of the Antarctic summer. This cascaded into the loss of more than 400 sq km of ice by the last week of March.

Wilkins ice shelf is on the southwest Antarctic peninsula, about 1,600 km south of South America. The region has seen unprecedented rates of warming in the past 50 years. Two of the 10 ice shelves along the peninsula have vanished in the past 30 years. Another five have lost between 60 and and 92 per cent of their size. But Wilkins is the southernmost ice shelf to start crumbling.

The part that recently gave way makes up about 4 per cent of the size of Wilkins ice shelf, but it is an important part that can trigger further collapse. Scientists say there is no immediate effect on sea level due to the latest event. However, disintegration of Wilkins ice shelf is a markable sign of the worsening global warming.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.