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Jean-Louis Etienne
Monday April 27 2009
Antarctica, April 2009 : Collapse of the ice bridge supporting the Wilkins Ice Shelf
The Wilkins Ice Shelf is located to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. This huge ice shelf with an area of 16,000 sq. km was tethered to Charcot and Latady islands by an ice bridge about 100 km long. Over the past few years, the area of the ice shelf has been decreasing (-15% in 2008) and the ice bridge had begun to show signs of fatigue. The volume of ice had been shrinking and major fissures had appeared. In 2008, scientists observed clear signs that the bridge risked collapsing, and the bridge’s width was reduced to less than 3 km. The scientific community stepped up monitoring, mainly via imagery from the European ENVISAT satellite. On 6 April 2009, the ice bridge collapsed, freeing a chaotic jumble of icebergs. Scientists are now trying to determine the causes of the partial dislocation of the Wilkins Ice Shelf so that they can determine whether this phenomenon is the result of climate change in the region (+2.5°C in 50 years). It should be noted that this collapse follows the break-up of the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves in 1995 and 2002.
To find out more : an ESA document and a daily report on the phenomenon.
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