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Warming Is Blamed for Collapse of Huge Chunk of Antarctic Ice

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even larger portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said yesterday.

Satellite images show a runaway 160-square-mile chunk of ice that broke off the Wilkins Ice Shelf in western Antarctica. The chunk started breaking off on Feb. 28. It had been there for perhaps 1,500 years.

The event is a result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Although icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses such as this are unusual. They have been happening more frequently, however, in recent decades, Vaughan said. The collapse is similar to what happens to glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he said.

The rest of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995.

Vaughan had predicted in 1993 that the Wilkins shelf would collapse in 30 years.

"The most dramatic early consequences of the climate crisis are in the least accessible areas: near the North Pole and the South Pole," said former vice president Al Gore. "Since it's not on live TV, it doesn't command as much attention as it should."

-- From Staff Reports and News Services

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