Originally posted April 22, 2009
Tell that to the Wilkins Ice Shelf.
At least 10,000 years old, the 1/3 mile wide span of ice that linked Antarctica to nearby Charcot Island broke apart on April 5, 2009, as expected by scientists watching worldwide. This collapse opens a path for icebergs from the rest of the disintegrating swath of ice to enter the open ocean, which they are currently beginning to do.
Now, with the Charcot Island connection broken for the first time in centuries, cracks are rapidly forming in the nearby bridge to Latady Island as well (above at top left). Scientists don’t expect this connection to last much longer. Weeks, maybe months.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf is part of the section of Antarctica that extends north toward the southernmost tip of South America. The collapse of its ice bridges is part of a trend of breakups across the continent, contributed to a 4ºF rise in polar temperatures since the 1960s. Such events pave the way for more ice to enter the ocean from Antarctic glaciers, possibly contributing to a global rise in sea levels. The 25-mile-long Wilkins Shelf is the largest to have come apart recently.
It’s a bleak warning of what’s to come, whether we choose to pay attention or not. We cannot expect to inhabit our world the way we do and not have an effect on it…see the wall chart at left from a display at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium. Let’s hope it’s not too late to make a change.
The image above is from the Chelys Earth Snapshot Site. It’s a great place to see hi-res satellite images from around the globe, updated daily. Most are not as dire as this but I felt it needed to be highlighted, especially in honor of Earth Day when we should all be conscious of the beauty – and fragility – of our own very special planet. We haven’t found another one yet that can house us, so it only makes sense to treat the one we have with utmost care.
Image credit: Chelys