Science

First collapse of ice shelf in Antarctic's 'coldest region'

First collapse of ice shelf in Antarctic's 'coldest region'

An Antarctic ice shelf larger than New York City - in an area previously thought to be stable - has collapsed.

According to the Associated Press, the ice shelf is relatively small, only 460 square miles, but its unexpected disintegration marks the first recorded collapse of an ice shelf in East Antarctica.

"In this part of Antarctica, which is connected to the highest, driest, coldest region, East Antarctica, we really didn't expect to see the ice shelf collapse," said Peter Neff, a glaciologist at the University of Minnesota, in a TikTok video. On Friday.

The continental shelf broke up last week as temperatures soared in the region . It collapsed sometime between March 14 and March 16, according to ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Kanger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica (~1200 km2) can be seen in a combination of #Landsat and #MODIS images that collapsed completely on March 15. Did it also reach a tipping point after the #Antarctic #AtmosphericRiver and heat wave? #CongerIceShelf #Antarctica @helenafricker @icy_pete https://t.co/7dP5d6isvd pic.twitter.com/1wzmuOwdQn

-- Catherine Colello Walker (@CapComCatWalk), March 24, 2022

Just a few days ago, the temperature at a research station on the Antarctic Plateau was 70 degrees Fahrenheit above average. A long column of water vapor, called an atmospheric river, brings heat from the tropics to the icy continent. At the same time, a high-pressure system called the "heat dome" enters and sits over East Antarctica, trapping heat and moisture there, according to The Washington Post.

"The heat wave may well be the 'last straw that broke the camel's back,'" Walker told the Associated Press.

"We may be seeing the results of a long-term increase in ocean warming there," she said, adding, "It's just melting and melting away."

As humans add more heat-trapping gases (such as carbon dioxide) to the atmosphere, global temperatures are rising, and the poles are warming faster than the rest of the planet.

Even before the heat wave, Antarctica's sea ice coverage was at its lowest level on record, the Guardian reported in February.

First collapse of ice shelf in Antarctic's 'coldest region'

The ice shelf, which has been slowly shrinking since the 1970s, is melting faster by 2020, so its size is being reduced by about half every month, according to the Associated Press. The ice shelf was previously located between two glaciers, called Kanger and Glenzer, and warming seawater.

The worrisome collapse shows that even areas that scientists thought were immune to the climate crisis are not so immune.

Neff told the Associated Press, "The Glenzerkanger Ice Shelf has probably been there for thousands of years and will never be there again."