Canada's last intact ice shelf collapses due to warming

Updated: 09 August, 2020 08:00 IST | Agencies | Toronto

Two giant icebergs formed along with lots of smaller ones, and they have already started drifting away, White said. The biggest is nearly the size of Manhattan

This image taken by professor Luke Copland in 2015 shows Canadian Ice Service ice analyst Adrienne White taking a photo of the cracks
This image taken by professor Luke Copland in 2015 shows Canadian Ice Service ice analyst Adrienne White taking a photo of the cracks

Canada's 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island had been the country's last intact ice shelf until the end of July, when ice analyst Adrienne White of the Canadian Ice Service noticed that satellite photos showed that about 43 per cent of it had broken off. She said it happened around July 30 or 31.

Two giant icebergs formed along with lots of smaller ones, and they have already started drifting away, White said. The biggest is nearly the size of Manhattan.

"This is a huge, huge block of ice," White said. "If one of these is moving toward an oil rig, there's nothing you can really do aside from move your oil rig." The 187 sq km undulating white ice shelf of ridges and troughs had been larger than the district of Columbia, but now is down to 106 sq km.

Temperatures from May to early August in the region have been 9 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland said. This is on top of an Arctic that already had been warming much faster than the rest of globe, with this region warming even faster.

"Without a doubt, it's climate change," Copland said, noting the ice shelf is melting from both hotter air above and warmer water below. "The Milne was very special," he added. "It's an amazingly pretty location." Ice shelves are hundreds to thousands of years old, thicker than long-term sea ice, but not as big and old as glaciers, Copland said.

The ice service said on Twitter that "above-normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up."

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First Published: 09 August, 2020 07:30 IST

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