FASTER AND FASTER

25 03 2008

 from the London Independent:

Cracking up: the ice shelf as big as Northern Ireland

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

It is one of the biggest in Antarctica and, for the past century, the massive Wilkins ice shelf appeared to have escaped the ravages of global warming. But now, enormous cracks have appeared in this floating ice platform the size of Northern Ireland. Scientists say it is breaking apart at an unprecedented rate after warmer temperatures weakened it.

A thin strip of ice is all that now prevents the Wilkins shelf from disintegrating and breaking away from the landmass of the Antarctic peninsula, scientists said yesterday. The peninsula is the fastest-warming region in the Antarctic and has seen some of the largest temperature rises on earth – 0.5C per decade – which is why the Wilkins ice shelf is on the verge of disappearing completely, said one of the scientists.

Observers at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge and the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado said they were astonished to discover just how fast the ice shelf was breaking apart since the first cracks were seen in February.

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