Satellite spies on doomed Antarctic ice shelf

Satellite images have revealed the collapse of Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula fulfilling predictions made by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists. The collapse of the 3250 km2 ice shelf is the latest drama in a region of Antarctica that has experienced unprecedented warming over the last 50 years.

Earlier this month Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado alerted BAS glaciologists David Vaughan and Chris Doake to images from the NASA MODIS satellite. Meanwhile, in Antarctica Argentinian glaciologist Pedro Skvarca, realised something was happening to the ice shelf and mobilised an aircraft to obtain aerial images confirming the satellite data. While the collapse was still occurring the BAS research ship RRS James Clark Ross navigated her way through the armada of icebergs to obtain photographs and samples.

Over the last month the 200-m thick ice shelf collapsed into small icebergs and fragments. Pooling these new observations scientists will determine when such an event last happened and which ice shelves are threatened in future.

BAS glaciologist Dr David Vaughan said,
“In 1998, BAS predicted the demise of more ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula. Since then warming on the peninsula has continued and we watched as piece-by-piece Larsen B has retreated. We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering. Hard to believe that 500 million billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month.”

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