An iceberg the size of New York City has broken off the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Satellite data shows that approximately 700 square kilometers separated from the shelf and shattered into hundreds of icebergs.

The Wilkins Shelf, stable for most of the last century, began retreating in the 1990s.
The trend has been widely blamed on climate change caused by heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels in cars, factories and power plants, according to David Vaughan, a British Antarctic Survey scientist.

“There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming,” said Vaughn. “The retreat of Wilkins Ice Shelf is the latest and the largest of its kind.” He adds, “Eight separate ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have shown signs of retreat over the last few decades.”

Scientists estimate the Wilkins Shelf will lose some 3,370 square kilometers more — an area larger than Rhode Island, or two-thirds the size of Luxembourg – over the next few weeks. Researchers believe the shelf was held in place by an ice bridge linking Charcot Island to the Antarctic mainland, which disintegrated on April 5th having lost two large chunks last year.

This disintegration of monumental amounts of ancient ice is yet another indication that we must reduce our emissions as fast as we can, emphasizing the need to phase out the energy sources that produce them. However, along with the development and implementation of new, clean energy technologies, we must be mindful that climate change will continue to impact essential infrastructure, and may also compromise the very energy sources we switch to.

Hydro power, for instance, is vulnerable to major shifts in hydrological regimes predicted by climate models, and already being experienced in many places.

ACT’s upcoming Energy session will look at the pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods to climate impacts.