By Will Dunham

March 26,

SATELLITE images show that a large hunk of Antarctica's Wilkins Ice Shelf has started to collapse in a fast-warming region of the continent.

The area of collapse measured about 160 square miles (415 square km) of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, according to satellite imagery from the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Centre. That's a larger area than Australia's Gold Coast, which is 383 sq km.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is a broad sheet of permanent floating ice that spans about 5000 square miles (13,000 square km) and is located on the southwest Antarctic Peninsula about 1000 miles (1600km) south of South America.


"Block after block of ice is just tumbling and crumbling into the ocean," Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, said.

"The shelf is not just cracking off and a piece goes drifting away, but totally shattering. These kinds of events, we don't see them very often. But we want to understand them better because these are the things that lead to a complete loss of the ice shelf."

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photo: Meltdown ... Satellite images show changes to the Wilkins ice shelf. Picture courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre/NASA