Glacial ice melting at alarming rate: researchers
Published Saturday, November 29, 2008 9:55PM EST
European researchers warn that glacial ice is melting faster than previously thought after satellite images showed a massive chunk of Antarctic ice nearly disintegrate in only a few weeks.
The European Space Agency, which has been closely monitoring the Wilkins Ice Shelf, noticed that a bridge of ice connecting the shelf to the Antarctic continent has been disappearing at an alarming rate.
And that's bad news, scientists say, because the Wilkins Ice Shelf acts like an early warning system for other parts of the globe.
"It's probably our best sensor of these large scale changes taking place," glaciologist Lonnie Thompson told CTV News.
In May, researchers noticed that the bridge appeared more narrow than usual. However, within a month, half of the bridge had disappeared.
Earlier this week, another section broke away, meaning the shelf itself - which scientists believe is more than 1,000 years old - is also weakening.
Soon, the ice could break away from the continent entirely, becoming a free-floating iceberg about half the size of Vancouver Island. The slab of ice is so large that seventy countries are actually smaller in area.
While scientists predicted this would happen in the future, they thought it would take an additional 15 years.
"We're seeing a very strong pattern of changes we knew would happen," said researcher Jay Gulledge of the Pew Center on Climate Change.
He added that the break-off is "happening much sooner than we thought (it) would."
Earlier this year, scientists were caught off guard when a chunk of the ice shelf roughly the same size as Manhattan collapsed suddenly.
Still, scientists hope that the news will put pressure on world leaders to ramp up efforts to combat climate change.
On Monday, Environment Minister Jim Prentice will join other leaders in Poland for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change.
However, efforts to kick-start any new climate change initiatives may have to wait until January, when Barack Obama formally becomes U.S. President.