June 16, 2008—Another large plate of ice has broken off the rapidly disintegrating Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula, the above satellite images show.
While the ice shelf, located directly below South America, shrank significantly in previous months (see March images), this is the first documented occurrence of an ice shelf collapsing during the Southern Hemisphere's winter.
The European Space Agency's Envisat satellite revealed that approximately 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) of ice detached from the ice shelf between May 30 and May 31. This most recent loss narrowed the strip to a width of 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers).
The Wilkins Ice Shelf connects the islands of Charcot and Latady and protects many miles of Antarctica's ice shelves from additional collapse.
A trend of "extraordinary warming" over the past 50 years in Antarctica has caused the loss of several ice shelves, Matthias Braun of Bonn University, and Angelika Humbert of Münster University, said in a statement.
The researchers also warned that the last strip of ice on Wilkins would disappear soon.
"The remaining plate has an arched fracture at its narrowest position," they said, "making it very likely that the connection will break completely in the coming days."
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