Huge section breaks off Wilkins Ice Shelf

Antarctica – After hovering in the balance for months, an area the size of New York City has broken off the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

About 700 square kilometers of ice has broken up into icebergs following the collapse earlier this month of a 40km ice bridge linking it to the Antarctic Peninsula and Charcot Island. The collapse was spotted by the European Space Agency (ESA).

“The retreat of Wilkins Ice Shelf is the latest and the largest of its kind. Eight separate ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have shown signs of retreat over the last few decades,” said David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey. “There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, which has been the most rapid in the southern hemisphere.”

The Wilkins Ice Shelf has already shrunk by a third since it was first mapped, with the decline beginning in the 1990s.

The collapse is expected to accelerate the disintegration of the Wilkins Ice Sheet, which is in one of the fastest-warming regions of Antarctica. Without it, the glaciers behind may flow to the sea more rapidly, possibly affecting global sea levels.

“We are not sure if a new stable ice front will now form between Latady Island, Petrie Ice Rises and Dorsey Island,” said Dr Angelika Humbert from Muenster University. “If the connection to Latady Island is lost, the projected loss of 3370 sq km of ice might be greater – though we have no indication that this will happen in the near future.”

In the past 50 years, temperatures in the Antarctic have risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius, about six times the global average.In the last 20 years, seven ice shelves have been lost. There’s more information, here.