Is the Wilkins Ice Shelf About to Collapse?
The news from the European Space Agency is alarming: The Wilkins Ice Shelf is in imminent danger of collapse. Winter is coming in the Antarctic, but warming sea and air temperatures have reduced an ice bridge connecting the ice shelf to Latady and Charcot Islands to a very narrow width. New fractures are appearing along that ice bridge, and if it breaks, the entire Wilkins Ice Shelf could crumble, releasing huge amounts of ice into the oceans, raising sea levels worldwide. The ESA warns of the “beginning of what appears to be the demise of the ice bridge”.
That’s quite alarming, but temper this news with a memory of what the European Space Agency said about the same ice bridge anchoring the same ice shelf just 10 months ago. The ESA quoted two researchers from the Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces at Bonn University and the Institute of Geophysics at Münster University: “The remaining plate has an arched fracture at its narrowest position, making it very likely that the connection will break completely in the coming days.”
That complete break still has not come. That doesn’t mean it won’t come, but I think we ought to regard news of the “imminent” break up of big blocks of Arctic and Antarctic ice with the same attitude we read of imminent break ups among celebrities reported by supermarket tabloids. We’ll believe it when we see it.