An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change, concerned scientists said Friday.
The collapse, captured by satellite images, marked the first time in human history that the frigid region had an ice shelf collapse. It happened at the beginning of a freakish warm spell last week when temperatures soared more than 70 degrees (40 Celsius) warmer than normal in some spots of East Antarctica. Satellite photos show the area had been shrinking rapidly the last couple of years, and now scientists say they wonder if they have been overestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming that has been melting ice rapidly on the smaller western side and the vulnerable peninsula.
The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide (1200 square kilometers) holding in the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from the warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and 16, said ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent and that makes it worrisome.
“The Glenzer Conger ice shelf presumably had been there for thousands of years and it’s not ever going to be there again,” said University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff.