April 4, 2009 : A satellite picture from the European Space Agency (ESA) showed that a 40 kilometre long strip of ice had splintered at its narrowest point, about 500 meters wide. It was believed to have pinned the Wilkins Ice Shelf in place. The Wilkins Ice Shelf once covered around 16,000 square kilometres. It began to shrink in the 1990s, and by May 2008, the ice bridge was all that connected it to the coast. The bridge was almost 100 km wide in 1950.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf has shrunk too. Nine other ice shelves have shrunk or collapsed in recent years on the Antarctic Peninsula, seven of them in the last 20 years. In the past 50 years, temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to 3 degrees Celsius. This is the fastest rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP)has warned that global warming in the region will accelerate further if the Wilkins Ice Shelf breaks and floats away.
Studies of the cores of sediments on the seabed indicate that some of these ice shelves had been in place for at least 10,000 years. One ice shelf takes many hundreds of years to form. The loss of one does not affect sea levels directly, as floating ice contracts during melting. However, ice shelves protect glaciers on land from sliding rapidly toward the sea and adding water to the oceans.
Related Links – If you want to know more:
Antarctica: Where is it? Click here to see it on the map
Antarctica: Latest news about Antarctic Ice Bridge Collapse
Antarctica: Images from Antarctica
Antarctica: More about Antarctica