As the politicians pontificate about climate change and the crucial Bonn negotiations come to a close on Wednesday, nature has sent its very own stark message to the conference.
An ice bridge that held the vast Wilkins Ice Shelf in place shattered at the weekend. Its collapse could herald a larger break-up of the Ice Shelf, which is the size of Jamaica.While the break-up will have no direct impact on sea level because the ice is floating, it once again heightens concerns over the impact of climate change on Antarctica. It also sends another message to the politicians that urgent action is needed.
Moreover, scientists have been stunned by the speed of the breakup, although they have been expecting it to happen for some time. “It’s amazing how the ice has ruptured. Two days ago it was intact,” said David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey.
Satellite images have revealed that a 25 mile long strip of ice, which is believed to have pinned the Wilkins Ice Shelf in place since the beginning of recorded history, had broken at its narrowest point.
The Wilkins ice-sheet is one of 10 shelves to have shrunk or collapsed in recent years on the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have risen by up to about 3C in the past 50 years, the fastest rate of warming in the southern hemisphere.
“We believe the warming on the Antarctic Peninsula is related to global climate change, though the links are not entirely clear,” Mr Vaughan said. However over the past 50 years, Antarctica has been one of the fastest warming places on the planet.
Wilkins is not alone either. The news comes hot on the heels of the release of a survey by British and American researchers warning of the perilous state of Antarctic ice shelves and fast melting glaciers, and laying the blame firmly on climate change.