Massive ice chunks are crumbling away from a shelf in the western Antarctic Peninsula, researchers said Wednesday…warning that 1,300 square miles of ice, an area larger than Rhode Island, was in danger of breaking-off in coming weeks.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf had been stable for most of the last century, but began retreating in the 1990s. Researchers believe it was held in place by an ice bridge linking Charcot Island to the Antarctic mainland. But the 127-square-mile (330-square-kilometer) bridge lost two large chunks last year and then shattered completely on April 5. "As a consequence of the collapse, the rifts, which had already featured along the northern ice front, widened and new cracks formed as the ice adjusted," the European Space Agency said in a statement Wednesday on its Web site, citing new satellite images.
The first icebergs broke away on Friday, and since then some 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) of ice have dropped into the sea, according to the satellite data. "There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming," said David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.