Runaway Ice chunk In Antarctica Worries Scientists
The Associated Press
March 26, 2008
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WASHINGTON: A chunk of Antarctic ice seven times the size of Manhattan Island has suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, according to scientists.

Satellite images starting Feb. 28 show the runaway disintegration of a chunk covering 414 square kilometers, or 160 square miles. The ice was on the edge of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and had been there for possibly 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, David Vaughan, a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, said Tuesday.

Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the ongoing collapse for rare pictures and video.

“It’s an event we don’t get to see very often,” said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “The cracks fill with water and slice off and topple. That gets to be a runaway situation.”

While icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses like this are unusual but are happening more frequently in recent decades, Vaughan said. The collapse is similar to what happens to hardened glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he explained.

The rest of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, which totals about 14,500 square kilometers, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it, too, may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 1995 and 2002.

There is still a chance the rest of the ice shelf will survive until next year, Vaughan said, because this is the end of the Antarctic summer and colder weather is setting in.

Scientists said that they were not concerned about a rise in sea level from the latest event but that it was a sign of worsening global warming.

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