Wilkins Ice Shelf in Danger

by Nancy Atkinson on November 28, 2008

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Wilkins Ice Shelf, Credits: A. Humbert, Münster University, Germany (based on ESA Envisat images)

Wilkins Ice Shelf, Credits: A. Humbert, Münster University, Germany (based on ESA Envisat images)


Recent satellite images show new rifts have developed on the Wilkins Ice Shelf which could possibly lead to the opening of the ice bridge that has been preventing the shelf from disintegrating and breaking away from the Antarctic Peninsula. The ice bridge connects the Wilkins Ice Shelf to two islands, Charcot and Latady. As seen in the image above acquired Envisat on November 26, 2008, new rifts (denoted by different colored lines and dates of the events) have formed to the east of Latady Island and appear to be moving in a northerly direction. “These new rifts, which have joined previously existing rifts on the ice shelf (blue dotted line), threaten to break up the chunk of ice located beneath the 21 July date, which would cause the bridge to lose its stabilization and collapse,” said Dr. Angelika Humbert from the Institute of Geophysics at Münster University.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a broad plate of floating ice south of South America on the Antarctic Peninsula, had been stable for most of the last century before it began retreating in the 1990s. The peninsula has been experiencing extraordinary warming in the past 50 years of 2.5°C.

In the past 20 years, seven ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated or disintegrated, including the most spectacular break-up of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002, which Envisat captured within days of its launch.

Map showing break-up events of Larsen-B and Wilkins ice shelves, as observed by Envisat, in Antarctica.   Credits: ESA

Map showing break-up events of Larsen-B and Wilkins ice shelves, as observed by Envisat, in Antarctica. Credits: ESA


In February 2008 an area of about 400 km² broke off from the Wilkins Ice Shelf, narrowing the ice bridge down to a 6 km strip. At the end of May 2008 an area of about 160 km² broke off, reducing the ice bridge to just 2.7 km. Between 30 May and 9 July 2008, the ice shelf experienced further disintegration and lost about 1,350 km².

If the ice shelf breaks away from the peninsula, it will not cause a rise in sea level since it is already floating. However, ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula are sandwiched by extraordinarily raising surface air temperatures and a warming ocean, making them important indicators for on-going climate change.

Source: ESA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Mike November 29, 2008 at 8:18 AM

Well…Here goes the ice !!! I’m sure lots of people will just brush it off as a natural ocurrence and that global warming or climate change has nothing to do with it…

It is happening right before our eyes but we are only Humans so only when THERE IS NO MORE ICE AND NO TURNING BACK will the powers that be TRY to do something about it.

For the meanwhile, it is too expensive to even resume debates on climate change let alone ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT with all the wars going on and the lifestyle of the mad.

Sad, rich people/countries seem to be “using” all resources like there is no tomorrow….well THERE REALLY IS NO TOMORROW FOLKS, people choose to just brush this whole matter off as thay do not intend to be deprived of all the goodies that poor people never will even experience, like food or fresh water and never mind the HUGE trucks, humongous houses, plane trips everywhere and whatnot…

Harsh reality…but still, reality !!

geokstr November 29, 2008 at 9:16 AM

No money to do anything about it?

Good.

That will give us a chance to step back and take a long look at this “climate change nee global warming” and see 1) if it exists, 2) if we caused it and 3) if we can even do anything about it in any case. BEFORE we throw several trillion dollars at it that we don’t have.

A good example would be the current financial crisis. The so-called experts ran around like headless chickens claiming the sky was falling unless we did exactly what they said. Now, too late of course, these same “experts” admit they really haven’t got a clue as to what’s going on. And the economy, as complex as it is, is child’s play compared to the earth’s climate.

SteveF November 29, 2008 at 9:47 AM

I’m not trying to be mean, but if we keep preaching like Mike just did with multiple exclamation points and ALL CAPS, then our words will fall on deaf ears.

Mike November 29, 2008 at 10:39 AM

Look guys, i am not of english origin, neither am i from the U.S. hence my native language is not the same as yours, since you probably won’t be able to respond to me in Portuguese i was forced to use your language to state my opinion.

These days people tend to give more importance to grammar and sentence structure than to the actual content of people’s opinions and that deters an actual response to what was written and just scrutinizes how people word their voices instead of what is said.

There is a huge amount of money being thrown at the war machine, at the consumers brains by advertising everything that can be sold on Earth and no money for saving the ecosistems that keep us alive? You are wrong sir. See cost of a single jet fighter or a bomb. Money well spent ? ok…i don’t agree.

By the way, you do know that CAPS are intended for outlining thoughts don’t you? Incorrect grammar? Ok analyse my writing and just don’t bother to actually listen to what is going on.

Peace

Mike

Patrick J. Keegan November 29, 2008 at 11:14 AM

The modern cry of Chicken Little is “Global warming is coming!”, but Foxy Loxy is still urging us fowl to seek refuge in his den. Before we panic and embark on a series of measures which are socially and economically destructive, there are questions which must be considered in the calm light of science and reason.

1). Is Global Warming a real phenomenon? If it is, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Remember; if it wasn’t for the last round of Global Warming, my home state of Iowa would still be under a mile thick sheet of ice. Furthermore, agriculturists claim that vast tracts of new land will become available for cultivation and new sources of raw materials will become accessible. It is said that if the ice all melts the sea will rise and drowned much of the coastline. This may be true, but at least we will no longer have to keep bailing out New Orleans.

2).What are the consequences if Global Warming is not real? If the northern winters become even more sever than they have been, I assure you that the citizens of Canada, Minnesota and Siberia will find something to burn for warmth, no matter how much it pollutes.

3). According to the fanatic crowd, there are signs of global warming everywhere and we are the cause. They can not explain why these signs are inconsistent. Furthermore, they can not explain why our space probes on Mars and Jupiter report the same signs of “Global Warming” on these planets. Are we causing it there too?

4). Instead of reasoned debate and logic, why does every proposal for mitigating “Global Warming”, real or imaginary, involve banner headlines full of panic, deafening political rhetoric and the shipping of massive amounts of my tax money to people I would not trust with my car keys?

PJK

litesong November 29, 2008 at 1:42 PM

PJK continues the oil & business boardroom denialist claptrap. The incredible quantity of our emissions is 3 thousand thousand thousand thousand (trillion) TONS of carbon dioxide per century. Other greenhouse gases raise that total greatly. The oil & business boardrooms have a strong incentive to flood internet forums with their denialist positions. Anyone stating that 3 trillion TONS of anything DOESN’T have an effect on Planet Earth is proof positive they are liars, cheats & don’t care about science.

David R. November 29, 2008 at 6:01 PM

geokstr:
First, let me say I agree with the spirit of your comment. Human-links to global warming and/or climate change are difficult to pinpoint. I have yet to see any study that addresses the issue of all the variables in climate change (humans, animals, plants, solar activity, extra-solar activity such as gamma ray bursts, planetary evolution, and probably hundreds of other things). Be that as it may, the article reported climate change. You probably will argue that the reporting is biased in favor of human-links to climate change. In this case, I don’t think there’s much bias. There’s a satellite photo with the rather neutral conclusion that climate change must be at work. Well, the ice melted over a period of time. That seems to fit the bill of climate change, whether it be a short-lived change or an extended pattern. There wasn’t a mention of why it melted, only that it did.

Mike, strangely I admire the spirit of your comments as well. You might google “Bill Moyers Journal” and read up on the recent interview with Michael Pollan. Mr. Pollan presented an excellent argument linking the way we Americans make food with the state of affairs in economics, environmental damage, poverty, etc. It is well worth the time to listen to the interview, and I’ll bet worth the time to read his book. It might give you further ammunition for your points.

Well, I suppose that makes me a fence rider, but so be it. You guys made some good points. I would only add that both sides of this debate have at least something worth listening to (and worth a good conversation).

Pluto November 29, 2008 at 6:29 PM

Hey lifesong dumb ass, maybe three trillion TONS of something do have an effect but that effect is unnoticable compared to the effect that solar radiation fluctuations and water vapor have.

Should I spend my money to try to contain CO2 (plant food BTW) when they would be better spent trying to contain solar radiation or water vapor?

Oh wait, you can’t control water vapor or solar radiation.

Ya dope.

SteveF November 29, 2008 at 6:39 PM

Mike, you missed my point. Bells and whistles (regardless of gramatical ability in any language) do not equate to actions nor do they equate to the ability to influence other people to act. As for the War $$, it is a sad state of the world that it takes precidence to global warming, but I contend that religion (I apologize for bringing this into this thread) is responsible for the majority of all the deaths in wartime, yet no one seems to act with that knowledge either. anyhoo, feel free to poke fun on my run-on sentences.

martin November 29, 2008 at 7:19 PM

Pluto, throwing out personal insults does very little for your credibility. And if you would do a little research, you would find that the effects of solar radiation fluctuations are taken into account in climate models but are too small to explain recent climate variability, compared with the effect of CO2. Water vapor is a feedback agent, not a forcing agent, so cannot be used as an explanation. There have been large numbers of studies that prove this. If you want to come up with a good argument you will need to find a more sophisicated level of debate than this simple arguments that have long been disproved.

Louis November 29, 2008 at 8:03 PM

Excellent points, PJK!

zen November 30, 2008 at 1:05 AM

Maybe, just pilot a few ice breakers down under and finish the job and say “see,we told you so”!

Biguns November 30, 2008 at 2:30 AM

“Should I spend my money to try to contain CO2”
I am afraid your money will not do. I guess it takes courage to live a more efficient lifestyle. So little moneyed man, cut down more trees, drain a few more wetlands, buy yourself more of the cheep Chinese plastic trinkets and keep your hole shut!

marcellus November 30, 2008 at 1:40 PM

The thought that we humans can’t do anything about global warming (which I don’t believe in), is just pure hokum.

I am 53 years old, and the old guy I work with is 63. This last October we collected 454 bushels of walnuts for direct seedings and the MN State DNR nursery at Willow River.

That’s 1000 5 gallon pails of walnuts, or sixteen pickup loads, a potential of 250,000 carbon scrubbers for the planet and we did that in two and a half weeks.

You global warming alarmist weenies couldn’t fill one pickup, much less 16 of them. I’ve never met a liberal yet that could show any initiative without help from some “gubmint po’gram”.

If you actually did something about global warming on your own instead of wringing your hands and smoking dope, you might get a more positive outlook.

RetardedFishFrog November 30, 2008 at 11:01 AM

Dateline 15,000 B.C. This just in. Global warming is threatening the two mile thick ice sheet over the area that will become Chicago. Sea levels are predicted to rise, and this will likely be a calamity for the woolly mammoth as well as the saber tooth tigers that depend on them for food. The current warming trend is expected to continue for many years into the future…

marcellus December 1, 2008 at 8:42 AM

Our resources are not infinite, but the planet can absoub our emissions

Sid December 1, 2008 at 5:10 AM

Another constructive post from marcellus / Johnny Appleseed.

To reiterate some points I’ve made in the past:

The fact is that deniers is often not prepared to accept any argument which might involve accepting responsibility or changing his lifestyle, no matter how plausible or overwhelming the evidence. Any counter argument is acceptable, these include:

1. Flat denial that GW is happening. Continue to burn fossil fuels.
2. Say the case is unproven just as long as there is at least 1 scientist in the world who deniers GW. Continue to burn fossil fuels.
3. Admit GW is happening – but put it down to something other than human influence. Continue to burn fossil fuels.
4. Admit GW is caused by humans – but say its too late to do anything. Continue to burn fossil fuels.

The motivation of GW deniers usually fits into one or more of the following categories.
Refusal to change their lifestyle
Refusal to accept responsibility
Fear of the consequences of GW
Cynicism
Political prejudice

It’s happening. We are a factor, resources are not infinite, nor is the planets capacity to absorb our emissions.

Paul December 1, 2008 at 5:36 AM

Sorry to break into the climate change discussion but does anyone know what the little white dots are for in the lower RH of the picture?

jens December 1, 2008 at 9:19 AM

Me too wonders what those white dots are…….

flashmagoogan January 28, 2009 at 7:16 PM

What is the negative environmental impact if the wilkin’s ice shelf breaks off?

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