A 160-square-mile (515 square kilometers) chunk of ice in the Wilkins ice sheet in Western Antarctica has disintegrated. This collapse was predicted, but it is happening quicker than scientists expected. British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan had calculated that it would happen 15 years from now, and he says that it is the result of global warming.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf is a large sheet of permanent floating ice that spans about 5,000 square miles and is located on the southwest Antarctic Peninsula about 1,000 miles south of South America. Since the ice was floating, it won't cause sea levels to rise, but it is a bad sign for the other ice nearby that isn't in the ocean.
Ted Scambos, of the snow and ice data centre, spotted the development and alerted colleagues at the BAS in Cambridge, who immediately dispatched a Twin Otter reconnaissance aircraft to map the Wilkins ice shelf with aerial photographs.
"I had never seen anything like this before – it was awesome," said Jim Elliott, who was on board the aircraft. "We flew along the main crack and observed the sheer scale of movement from the breakage. Big, hefty chunks of ice, the size of small houses, looked as though they've been thrown around like rubble – it was like an explosion."
Dr Scambos said: "We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up... the collapse underscores that the Wilkins region has experienced an intense melt season. Regional sea ice has all but vanished, leaving the ice shelf exposed to the action of waves."
::Huge Antarctic ice chunk collapses, ::Global warming blamed for ice shelf collapse, ::Cracking up: the ice shelf as big as Northern Ireland
See also: ::The 4 Stages of Global Warming Denial