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Ice Bridge in Antarctica Shatters, Wilkins Ice Shelf At Risk

April 7th, 2009 Category: Climate Change

Wilkins Ice Shelf, Antarctica - April 5th, 2009

Wilkins Ice Shelf, Antarctica - April 5th, 2009

Detail of cracking ice bridge

Detail of cracking ice bridge

On AprilĀ  5th, 2009, in the waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, an ice bridge (center) connecting part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf (above) to Charcot Island (center left) shattered.

The break occurred at the thinnest point in the 40 kilometre (25 mi) long bridge, visible in this image taken on April 5th just before the collapse.

The shelf remains connected to Latady Island (bottom right), although it has been stated that this connection appears to be on the verge of rupturing as well.

While only the one section has broken away, some scientists believe that the Wilkins Ice Shelf is now only days away from completely breaking off. Researchers regarded the ice bridge as an important barrier, holding the remnant shelf structure in place. Its removal will allow ice to move more freely between Charcot and Latady islands, into the open ocean.

The breakaway is seen as firm evidence of the ongoing effects of warming. Temperatures in this region of Antarctica have risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius since the 1950s. The Wilkins Ice Shelf has been retreating since the early 1990s, and since that time scientists have been warning about the possible loss of its northern section. With regards to this most recent collapse, satellite imagery had been indicating the appearance of cracks in the bridge since last week, and newly created icebergs were seen floating in the surrounding sea.

Over the past 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the fastest warming places on the planet. Many of its ice shelves have retreated in that time and six of them have collapsed completely (Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and the Jones Ice Shelf).

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