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Wilkins Ice Shelf hanging by its last thread
Date:7/10/2008

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is experiencing further disintegration that is threatening the collapse of the ice bridge connecting the shelf to Charcot Island. Since the connection to the island in the image centre helps to stabilise the ice shelf, it is likely the break-up of the bridge will put the remainder of the ice shelf at risk.

This animation, comprised of images acquired by Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) between 30 May and 9 July 2008, shows the break-up event which began on the east (right) rather than the on west (left) like the previous event that occurred last month. By 8 July, a fracture that could open the ice bridge was visible.

According to the image acquired on 7 July 2008, Dr Matthias Braun from the Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces at Bonn University estimates the area lost on the Wilkins Ice Shelf during this break-up event is about 1350 km with a rough estimate of 500 to 700 km in addition being lost if the bridge to Charcot Island collapses.

This break-up is puzzling to scientists because it has occurred in the Southern Hemispheric winter and does not have characteristics similar to two earlier events that occurred in 2008, which were comparable to the break-up of the Larsen-A and -B ice shelves.

"The scale of rifting in the newly-removed areas seems larger, and the pieces are moving out as large bergs and not toppled, finely-divided ice melange," said Ted Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Data Center who uses ASAR images to track the area.

"The persistently low sea ice cover in the area and data from some interesting sources, electronic seal hats [caps worn by seals that provide temperature, depth and position data] seems to suggest that warm water beneath the halocline may be reaching the underside of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and thinning it rapidly - and perhaps reaching the surface, or at least mixing with surface waters."

Prof. David Vaughan of the Bri
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
Source:Eurekalert  

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