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Even the Antarctic winter cannot protect Wilkins Ice Shelf

Wilkins Ice Shelf has experienced further break-up with an area of about 160 km breaking off from 30 May to 31 May 2008. ESA's Envisat satellite captured the event the first ever-documented episode to occur in winter.

Wilkins Ice Shelf, a broad plate of floating ice south of South America on the Antarctic Peninsula, is connected to two islands, Charcot and Latady. In February 2008, an area of about 400 km broke off from the ice shelf, narrowing the connection down to a 6 km strip; this latest event in May has further reduced the strip to just 2.7 km.

This animation, comprised of images acquired by Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) between 30 May and 9 June, highlights the rapidly dwindling strip of ice that is protecting thousands of kilometres of the ice shelf from further break-up.

According to Dr Matthias Braun from the Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces, Bonn University, and Dr Angelika Humbert from the Institute of Geophysics, Mnster University, who have been investigating the dynamics of Wilkins Ice Shelf for months, this break-up has not yet finished.

"The remaining plate has an arched fracture at its narrowest position, making it very likely that the connection will break completely in the coming days," Braun and Humbert said.

Braun and Humbert are monitoring the ice sheet daily via Envisat acquisitions as part of their contribution to the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, a large worldwide science programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic.

The ASAR images used to compile these animations were acquired as part of ESA's support to IPY. ESA is helping scientists during IPY to collect an increasing amount of satellite information, particularly to understand recent and current distributions and variations in snow and ice and changes in the global ice sheets.

ESA is also co-leading a large IPY project the Global Interagency IPY Polar Snapshot Year

Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
European Space Agency

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