Massive ice shelf collapsing off Antarctica(Photos explained)


Scientists are citing “rapid climate change in a fast-warming region of Antarctica” as the cause of an initial collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf. The damage got started at the end of February when an iceberg dropped off and triggered the “runaway disintegration” of a 160-square-mile portion of the 5,282-square-mile shelf.

The ice shelf, which scientists speculate has floated in the Antarctic region for hundreds of years, is succumbing to recent rises in temperature in the area–an average of 0.9 degree Fahrenheit every 10 years for the last 50 years.

This series of pictures that show the beginning of the breakup were taken by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer sensor, which flies on its Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA


The true-color blue area is breaking off the rest of the ice shelf. A narrow, 3.7-mile section is all that remains to protect from further crumbling, though scientists say that, with Antarctica’s summer just ending, they don’t expect further disintegration in the next few months.

“This unusual show is over for this season,” Ted Scambos, lead scientist for the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said in a statement. “But come January, we’ll be watching to see if the Wilkins continues to fall apart.”

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

The crumbled portion of the Wilkins Ice Shelf features 492-foot-wide icebergs that are crumbling into house-size blocks.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center; right, National Snow and Ice Data Center/courtesy Cheng-Chien Liu, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Taiwan and Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO); processed at Earth Dynamic System Research Center at NCKU,

The red line shows the position of the ice shelf in 2007.Credit: British Antarctic Survey

The Wilkins Ice Shelf breakup, as observed by scientists of the British Antarctic Survey in an overflight.

Credit: Jim Elliot, British Antarctic Survey