Antarctica ice shelf shrinks by 85%

2012-04-05 14:01

Paris - A vast ice shelf in the Antarctic peninsula, a hotspot for global warming, has shrunk by 85% in 17 years, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Thursday.

Images taken by its Envisat satellite show that the so-called Larsen B ice shelf decreased from 11 512km² in 1995, an area about the size of the Gulf state of Qatar, to only 1 670km² today.

Larsen B is one of three ice shelves that run from north to south along the eastern side of the peninsula, the tongue of land that projects toward South America.

From 1995 to 2002, Larsen B experienced several calving events in which parts of the shelf broke away. It had a major breakup in 2002 when half of the remainder disintegrated. Larsen A broke up in January 1995.

"Larsen C so far has been stable in area, but satellite observations have shown thinning and an increasing duration of melt events in summer," the agency said in a press release.


Ice shelves are thick floating mats of ice, attached to the shore, that are created by the runoff into the sea from glaciers.

Scientists say they are extremely sensitive to changes in atmospheric temperature and can be hollowed out from below by warmer ocean currents.

The northern Antarctic peninsula has been subject to atmospheric warming about 2.5°C over the last 50 years, a figure that is several times greater than the global average.

Ice shelves are not the same as ice sheets, the vast blanket of frozen water that covers Antarctica.

If these melted, even partially, they would drive up sea levels, threatening small island states and coastal cities. But the scientific evidence is that the ice sheets so far are stable.

"These observations are very relevant for measuring the future behaviour of the much larger ice masses of West Antarctica if warming spreads further south," ESA quoted Helmut Rott, a professor at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, as saying.

  • Sharon - 2012-04-05 15:36

    The elephant in the room is Humans, simply to many humans. And crawling on the planets face Some insects called the human race Lost In Time and lost in space and in meaning It's sad that we spend tens of billions on space research but ironically nothing on protecting the current space ship which houses all of humanity and all life as we know it, yes, I'm referring to planet Earth, it IS a spaceship hurtling through space at thousands of km/h, it houses us and feeds us yet we're intent on destroying it. Instead of looking for other planets to live on or colonize we should learn to keep our only home and Star Ship in pristine condition, Earth dies we die, simples...

      joeballito - 2012-04-05 17:22

      We are but a passing ship in the night,after destroying ourselves mother earth will resume with her paradise.......

      zaatheist - 2012-04-06 04:32

      Funny how we, just ordinary Joes and Janes can identify the problems posed by over population but the politicians in all countries, except the maligned Chinese, recognise it. Humanity is doomed to be smothered in its own excrement,

  • Tony Lapson - 2012-04-05 17:45

    And here we are in South Africa bickering about useless politicians. @Sharon very nicely said. I personally like to think that we are a part of the generation that will change the thinking of this entire planet, but is it too late?

      Sharon - 2012-04-05 19:01

      Yes it's to late. History repeats itself because human nature doesn't change, education, Lots of it is the only tool available to reprogram the human mind, however, uneducated Psychopaths or Sociopaths are truly evil, a EDUCATED Psychopath or Sociopath becomes a politician or financial elite BANKER, the two groups which control everyone and everything are consumed by Greed and POWER, and this has been going on forever, the cycle hasn't been broken, good Men/woman don't hold positions of power because they are no match for power hungry Psychopaths or Sociopaths. So history will repeat. A quote from George Orwells book, 1984 The real power is not power over things, but over men.'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?', Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how else can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own?. Drink and be merry :-))

  • Paul - 2012-04-06 07:58

    The Antarctic continually has ice melting and new ice forming. Obviously this particular ice shelf is melting. But on the whole the Antarctic is actually gaining in ice balance. - The consequent falling sea levels have been confirmed by the ARGO ocean observation system-

      Ernst - 2012-04-06 11:39

      @Paul: As far as the fake scandal of climategate is concerned: You read what you want to hear and block everything else out. I wouldnt even consult a website like "climategate" because there was never any scandal to begin with. See: 1) 2) 3) Article entitled: 'Climategate' Investigation Clears U.S. Scientists 4) 5) 6)a) b) "But on the whole the Antarctic is actually gaining in ice balance." Please see (Citations are provided):

  • Zion - 2012-04-06 10:47

    Just another conspiracy to make money and lies.

      Ernst - 2012-04-06 11:47

      @Zion: Yes, the fossil feul industry makes multi-billion dollar profits each year on your back and they spend millions of dollars each year to misinform you about climate science in order to prevent action from being taken so that they can keep you addicted to their drug. Worldwide, direct fossil fuel subsidies added up to roughly $500 billion in 2010, in contrast to just $66 billion for renewable energy. In other words: "World governments are shelling out a combined $1.4 billion per day to further destabilize the earth’s climate."

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