The narrow strip of ice which connected the Wilkins ice shelf with a small island off the southwestern Antarctic Peninsula has finally collapsed, threatening to speed up the disintegration of the 11,000 square kilometres-large shelf.
Scientists had expected the break up. A partial collapse of the ice sheet last year had already thinned and twisted the natural ice bridge which connected the Wilkins ice shelf with Charcot Island, providing stability. On 1 April scientists monitoring satellite images of the region first noticed that rifts had occurred in the Manhattan-sized strip of ice. On 4 April it broke into pieces.
Satellite image: Terra SAR-X ScanSAR, 5 April 2009 © DLR, 2009
(Charcot Island is to the left. The island at the bottom right is Latady Island. Behind the broken ice bridge are icebergs from the June/July 2008 break up)
The collapse could accelerate erosion of the Wilkins ice sheet, which is located in one of the most rapidly warming regions of Antarctica. Its demise threatens to speed up the flow of continental glaciers to the coast, with implications for global sea level rise.