6 April, 2009

Wilkins ice bridge snaps

Satellite pictures, from the European Space Agency (ESA), revealed that the 40-km (25 mile) long strip of floating ice believed to pin the Wilkins Ice Shelf in place had snapped at its narrowest point of about 500 meters wide off the Antarctic Peninsula. As the ice shelf shattered an armada of hundreds of small icebergs was created.

Wilkins ice shelf. On March 25th 2008 British Antarctic Survey released dramatic satellite and video images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf as it looked set to be the latest to break out from the Antarctic Peninsula. Images showed that a large part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula was supported only by a thin strip of ice hanging between two islands. The break out is another identifiable impact of climate change on the Antarctic environment.

According to British Antarctic Survey glaciologist Professor David Vaughan 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. 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.

In January this year Professor Vaughan visited the Wilkins Ice Shelf to place monitoring equipment on the ice. This, together with the quality and frequency of images acquired by ESA satellites, mean that the break-up of Wilkins Ice Shelf can be analysed far more effectively than any previous break-up. He says, “For the first time, I think, we can really begin to see the processes that have brought about the demise of the ice shelf.”

Related links

Antarctica’s retreating ice shelves

Reuters news story

European Space Agency pictures

Planet Earth Online news story