Antarctic ice shelf set to collapse

The Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica is on the brink of collapse, Reuters reports. The huge shelf is being held together only by a thinning 40-kilometre strip of ice that has eroded to an hour-glass shape only 500 metres wide at its narrowest point, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). In 1950, the strip was almost 100 kilometres wide.


"We’ve come to the Wilkins Ice Shelf to see its final death throes," David Vaughan, a BAS glaciologist told the news agency. "It really could go at any minute," added Vaughan, a senior member of the United Nations Climate Panel, or it may linger for weeks or months. Once the strip breaks up, the sea is likely to sweep away much of the remaining ice.


The flat-topped Wilkins shelf, with an area of thousands of square kilometers, juts 20 metres out of the sea off the Antarctic Peninsula. It once covered 16,000 square kilometres. Nine other shelves have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic peninsula in the past 50 years — often abruptly, like the Larsen A in 1995 or the Larsen B in 2002. The trend is widely blamed on climate change caused by greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.


The main worry in the collapse of ice shelves is that their loss will allow ice sheets on land to move faster, adding extra water to the seas. While Wilkins has almost no pent-up glaciers behind it, other shelves further south hold back huge volumes of ice.


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