The Conger ice shelf has crumbled after temperatures in East Antarctica rose to 40 degrees Celsius above normal earlier this month.
An ice shelf in East Antarctica has disintegrated this month after a period of extreme temperatures in the region, scientists say.
Satellite images show that the 1,200m2 (463sq mi) wide Conger Ice Shelf completely collapsed on or around March 15.
“Is it possible that it has reached the benchmark after the #Antarctic #Antarctic atmosphere plane and also the heat wave?” NASA Earth and Planetary Scientist Catherine Colello Walker asked on Twitter on Friday, sharing an image of a swath of white land crumbling to pieces over the dark ocean.
Ice shelves, icebergs permanently attached to land, take thousands of years to form and act like dikes to prevent ice from flowing into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise.
Peter Neff, an glaciologist at the University of Minnesota, said the March heatwave, with temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal in parts of East Antarctica, was tied to the phenomenon. atmospheric river.
This process creates columns hundreds of kilometers long that carry water vapor from the tropics, creating an effect that Neff describes as “the fire hose of moisture.”
“The [Antarctic] Neff said. “This is an extreme warming event at least twice what we expected.”
New @usnaticenamed icebergs resulting from the complete collapse of the Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica (~1200 sq km) on/about 15 March, seen in the conjunction of #Landsat and #MODIS image. #CongerIceShelf #Antarctic @helenafricker @jdmillstein https://t.co/16JtKcXQPY pic.twitter.com/lSKMngRgNi
– Catherine Colello Walker (@CapComCatWalk) March 24, 2022
Temperatures in the area are usually around -51C (-60F) this time of year, but they were around -12C (-10F) earlier this month.
Neff said they are now back to normal.
Surrounded by vast oceans and buffered by winds that tend to protect it from massive infiltration of warm air, the frozen continent is responding more slowly to climate change than the Arctic. , which is warming at three times the rate of the rest of the world.
Over the last century, East Antarctica has barely warmed, but some areas have been affected, and the continent lost an average of 149 billion tons of ice per year between 2002 and 2020, according to NASA. The loss of the Conger Ice Shelf is the latest example of changes underway.
“This poor little shelf of ice only exists for dear life in this really warm coastal climate and it has thinned and damaged over the past few decades,” Neff said.
Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the Conger shelf was fractured long before the heatwave, and its collapse shows that the Antarctic system is sensitive to changes atmosphere, but the event itself is not cause for concern.
A small glacier behind where Conger once sat can now flow faster and dump some more ice into the sea, he said.
“If it was in your backyard, it would be huge…but by Antarctic standards and sea level standards, it’s a small area,” he said.