Los Angeles-sized ice shelf breaks off

An ice cap with a surface the size of the city of Los Angeles completely broke off last week in East Antarctica, during the unprecedented “heat” wave that affected the region, scientists said on Friday (25).

“Full collapse of the Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica on March 15 [cerca de 1.200 km²]”, said NASA scientist Catherine Colello Walker, posting satellite images of the event on Twitter.

The surface is roughly equivalent to the size of the cities of Los Angeles, in the United States, or Rome, in Italy, but it is still a long way from the largest icebergs.

The platform located in the region known as Wilkes Land had started to disintegrate many years ago, but last week it registered “its final collapse”, Jonathan Wille, from the Institute of Environmental Geoscience in Grenoble, told AFP. suggesting a “link” to the “unprecedented” heat wave that ravaged the icy continent last week.

According to the US National Ice Center (USNIC), the US agency that monitors floating ice, the disintegration of this shelf gave way to an iceberg nearly 30 km long and 18 km wide, called C38, which later broke into two pieces.

The formation of icebergs, known as “birth”, is a natural process, but the warming of the atmosphere and oceans contributes to accelerating it, according to scientists.

And “the collapse of the Conger ice cap is more significant because it coincides with an extreme heat phenomenon,” Peter Davis, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey, told AFP.

A “birth” does not necessarily mean the total disintegration of an ice cap, the name given to the extent of glaciers over the sea.

This is not the first time that an Antarctic ice shelf has completely disintegrated. In 2002, the much larger Larsen B platform collapsed, but it was on the Antarctic Peninsula, on the other side of the continent.

Conger’s platform “may be smaller, but it’s in East Antarctica, a region we thought was less vulnerable,” tweeted Andrew Mackintosh of Monash University in Australia. “This is a warning,” he stressed.

The eastern part of the frozen continent, whose mantle contains enough ice to raise sea levels by tens of meters, last week suffered an exceptional heat wave that surprised scientists, with temperatures up to 40°C above seasonal standards.

It is not possible, when a phenomenon occurs, to attribute it to climate change, but the intensification of heat waves is in line with scientists’ predictions.

Overall, Antarctica, like the Arctic, is warming faster than the global average, with an increase of approximately +1.1°C since the pre-industrial period.

“If this heat wave is a harbinger of future conditions in the region, then this ‘birth’ is very significant and scientists will do their best to understand how these two events are related,” insisted Peter Davis.

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