News today that scientists in Antarctica are reporting that the Wilkins Ice Shelf is “imminently” close to breaking away from the Antarctic Peninsula. The shelf, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has been destabilizing for the past 20 years and is now on the verge of collapse.
Since the mass is already floating, the breakup won’t raise global sea levels, but it is none-the-less distressing. Wilkins, like all ice in Antarctica, is formed over thousands of years by accumulated and compacted snow. Surveys of the ice shelf over the past century reveal that it had been stable until the 1990’s. In February 2008, the shelf dropped 164 square miles (425 square kilometers) of ice. In May it lost a 62-square-mile chunk.
Meanwhile a new joint report by Muyin Wang of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and James E. Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory says that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than expected. Overland and Wang combined sea-ice observations with six complex computer models to predict a decline from about 2.8 million square miles normally to 620,000 square miles within 30 years.
Despite all of the apparent evidence, recent polls indicate that fewer and fewer Americans are concerned with global warming. While its difficult to focus attention on environmental matters in the midst of a planet-wide recession, climate change is indeed happening and will continue unless action is taken. The science is speaking to us, we’re apparently just not listening.
UPDATE: It’s happened. The BBC is reporting that according to satellite imagery taken on Sunday, April 5th, the Wilkins Ice Shelf finally snapped. You can watch their report regarding the break up at The Huffington Post.