Wilkins Ice Shelf in West Antarctic "On the Brink of Collapse"

The Wilkins Ice Shelf along the Antarctic peninsula is poised for "imminent collapse".

The thread by which the Wilkins Ice Shelf hangs onto the West Antarctic peninsula has suddenly all but broken loose, according to reports from scientists and researchers over the past few days.

New rifts detected on ice bridge

We reported last year on the degrading ice bridge that wedged the Connecticut-sized ice shelf in place between Charcot and Latady islands.

Over the past week, satellite images have shown rapidly expanding rifts has caused the collapse of ice bridge between the islands that observers believe portend the imminent collapse the Wilkins ice shelf with its entire north face now exposed to the open ocean.

We expect in the next few days and weeks, that the northern ice front will lose between 800 and 3700 square kilometres of ice," said said Angelika Humbert of Münster University, Germany, who has been closely monitoring the events.

The collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf will not impact sea level rise, as the floating ice cubes in your glass doesn't make your drink spill over as they melt. But the continued collapse of ice in the Antarctic can have an indirect effect as melting glacial ice runs directly into the sea (as your drink would surely spill over if you suddenly threw more ice cubes into your drink).

Humbert warns that the events of the past week serve as a warning that "ice shelves have the potential to become unstable on very short timescales."

Warming at the poles over the last 50 years is on average six times that of rest of the globe, or some 4 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit along the Antarctic peninsula.

Sources and Further Reading:
New Scientist

BBC

WebCam from Space

Image Credit: ESA News

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