In light of the continued destabilization of Antarctica’s Wilkins Ice Shelf, the European Space Agency (ESA) is now uploading updated images of the ice shelf to its website from its ENVISAT satellite on a daily basis.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a plate of floating ice off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, was about 16,000 square kilometers in size before it began to retreat in the 1990s. The ice shelf attracted worldwide attention in 1993 when Dr. David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) estimated that the northern part of the shelf could disintegrate by as soon as 2023 if warming trends were to continue.
In the following years, however, the shelf has deteriorated faster than Vaughan had predicted. About 1,000 square kilometers of ice was lost from the shelf in 1998. Other ice shelves that have collapsed in the last 30 years include Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Muller, Wordie, and the Jones Ice Shelf.
This year’s retreat of the Wilkins Ice Shelf began in February with a loss of approximately 400 square kilometers, continuing with about 160 square kilometers of the shelf breaking off during 30 May-31 May 2008 (earlier post), the first such episode to be observed during the Antarctic winter. New rifts, which began in July 2008 (earlier post) and developed further between August and November 2008 (earlier post), threaten to collapse the ice bridge that stabilizes the Wilkins Ice Shelf by connecting it to both Charcot and Latady islands.
ESA’s ENVISAT satellite acquires images of the ice shelf daily with its Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument. Images are updated automatically on the ESA website and animated to allow visitors to observe changes between image acquisitions. Individual images can also be viewed on the website.