Ice bridge ruptures in Antarctic

April 5th, 2009 - 11:21 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 5 (IANS) An ice bridge linking a shelf of ice the size of Jamaica to two islands in Antarctica has snapped, BBC reported.
Scientists say the collapse could mean the Wilkins Ice Shelf is on the brink of breaking away, and provides further evidence of rapid change in the region.

Sited on the western side of the Antarctic peninsula, the Wilkins shelf has been retreating since the 1990s.

Researchers regarded the ice bridge as an important barrier, holding the remnant shelf structure in place.

Its removal will allow ice to move more freely between Charcot and Latady islands, into the open ocean.

European Space Agency satellite pictures indicated last week that cracks were starting to appear in the bridge. Newly created icebergs were seen to be floating in the sea on the western side of the peninsula, which juts up from the continent towards South America’s southern tip.

David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey who planted a GPS tracker on the ice bridge in January to monitor its movement, said the breaking of the bridge had been expected for some weeks; and much of the ice shelf behind is likely to follow.

“We know that (the Wilkins Ice Shelf) has been very stable since the 1930s and then it started to retreat in the late 1990s; but we suspect it’s been stable for a very much longer period than that,” he told BBC News.

“The fact that it’s retreating and now has lost connection with one of its islands is really a strong indication that the warming on the Antarctic is having an effect on yet another ice shelf.”

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