Ice shelf in Antarctica’s ‘coldest region’ suddenly collapses for the first time

(ORDO NEWS) — An Antarctic ice shelf larger than New York City, located in an area previously thought to be stable, has collapsed.

The shelf is relatively small, 460 square miles, but its unexpected breakup marks the first time in recorded history that an ice shelf collapsed in East Antarctica, according to the Associated Press.

“In this part of Antarctica, which is adjacent to the highest, driest and coldest region, East Antarctica, we really didn’t expect to see the ice shelf breaking up,” said Peter Neff, a glaciologist at the University of Minnesota, in a TikTok video on Friday.

The shelf split as temperatures soared across the region last week. It broke up sometime between March 14 and 16, according to Katherine Walker, an ice scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

It was just a few days before a research station on the Antarctic plateau recorded temperatures 70 degrees Fahrenheit above average. A long column of water vapor, called an atmospheric river, carried heat from the tropics to the icy continent.

At the same time, a high-pressure system called a “thermal dome” has moved and settled over East Antarctica, trapping heat and moisture there, according to The Washington Post.

“The heat wave is probably the last straw on the camel’s back,” Walker told AP.

“We’re probably seeing the result of a long period of increased ocean warming,” she said, adding, “It just melted and melted.”

Global temperatures are rising as humans add more heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere, and the poles are warming faster than the rest of the planet.

Even before the start of the heatwave, Antarctica had recorded its lowest sea ice since records began, The Guardian reported in February.

This ice shelf has been shrinking slowly since the 1970s, and in 2020 its melting has accelerated so that its size has been halved roughly every month, AP reports.

Previously, the shelf stood between two glaciers called Conger and Glenzer and warming ocean waters.

This destruction shows that even those areas that scientists thought were immune from the effects of the climate crisis, after all, are not so unaffected.

“The Glenzer Konger Ice Shelf has supposedly existed there for thousands of years and will never exist again,” Neff told AP.

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