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April 5, 2009

Yesterday a twenty five mile long bridge of ice that held a huge Antarctic ice shelf in place has shattered. This could mean the accelerated break up of the larger Wilkins shelf.

A representative from the British Antarctic Survey says the Wilkins, now the size of Jamaica or the U.S. state of Connecticut, is one of 10 shelves to have shrunk or collapsed in recent years on the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have risen in recent decades apparently because of global warming.


About 175 nations have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, since March 29 as part of a push to agree by the end of 2009 a new U.N. treaty to combat climate change. The talks end on April 8. The loss of ice shelves does not affect sea levels — floating ice contracts as it melts and so does not raise ocean levels. But their loss can allow glaciers on land to slide more rapidly toward the sea, adding water to the oceans.

The Wilkins does not have much ice pent up behind it. But bigger ice shelves to the south on the frozen continent, where no major warming has been detected, hold back far more ice. source

These photos show the break up of the Larsen shelf in the Antarctic over time. The second photo was taken in March 2005.

Here are a few other related stories in the news.

An Antarctic ice shelf has disappeared
They said the Wordie Ice Shelf, which had been disintegrating since the 1960s, is gone and the northern part of the Larsen Ice Shelf no longer exists. More than 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km) have broken off from the Larsen shelf since 1986.

Climate change is to blame, according to the report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey, available at

According to the Scientific Committee on Anarctic Research, Antarctic ice melting faster than expected. SCAR consists of 31 countries with scientific research programs in the Antarctic. In June SCAR will be releasing a major report, Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment, which details the modeling showing that up to one-third of all Antarctic sea ice is likely to melt by the end of the century, seriously contributing to dangerous sea level rises, which will in turn threaten the existence of several species, including: the emperor penguins, humpback whales and several fish.

Climate change the biggest loser of G20 summit, warn environmental groups
The $1.1 trillion stimulus package agreed by G20 leaders yesterday risks locking the world into a high-carbon economy in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, environmental groups have warned.

Campaigners agreed that the summit’s biggest loser was the fight against climate change, despite a positive response from global financial markets to the announcement of financial aid. At the summit, prime minister Gordon Brown reiterated support for low-carbon economic growth and tackling climate change.

“In mobilising the world’s economies to fight back against recession we are resolved to … promote low-carbon growth and to create the green jobs on which our future prosperity depends,” he said. “We are committed to … working together to seek agreement on a post-2012 climate change regime at the UN conference in Copenhagen in December.”

and related to that story:

Recession may delay U.S. bill on emissions limits
U.S. lawmakers took a big step forward on climate change legislation this week, but the cratering economy makes it unlikely Congress will approve a controversial cap and trade system this year.

Any delays threaten the timely implementation of a key component of President Barack Obama’s goal to create millions of jobs in industries linked to clean energy.

Democrats in the House of Representatives released a complex draft bill Tuesday that seeks cut carbon emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and require companies to acquire permits to release greenhouse gases.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, hopes his panel approves a bill by the end of May. Legislation would have to pass through several other committees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he would like a vote on a cap and trade bill this summer. But experts doubt there are enough votes in the Senate given strong Republican opposition and some wavering Democrats.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stemella permalink*
    April 5, 2009 3:53 pm

    Another related story: Ice-Free Arctic Summers Likely Sooner Than Expected

    Summers in the Arctic may be ice-free in as few as 30 years, not at the end of the century as previously expected. The updated forecast is the result of a new analysis of computer models coupled with the most recent summer ice measurements.

    “The Arctic is changing faster than anticipated,” said James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and co-author of the study, which will appear April 3 in Geophysical Research Letters. “It’s a combination of natural variability, along with warmer air and sea conditions caused by increased greenhouse gases.”

  2. Stemella permalink*
    April 5, 2009 3:56 pm

    In the “I did not know that!” department:

    Bird Feathers Produce Color Through Structure Similar to Beer Foam

    Most colors in nature—from the color of our skin to the green of trees—are produced by pigments. But the bright blue feathers found in many birds, such as Bluebirds and Blue Jays, are instead produced by nanostructures. Under an electron microscope, these structures look like sponges with air bubbles.

    Now an interdisciplinary team of Yale engineers, physicists and evolutionary biologists has taken a step toward uncovering how these structures form. They compared the nanostructures to examples of materials undergoing phase separation, in which mixtures of different substances become unstable and separate from one another, such as the carbon-dioxide bubbles that form when the top is popped off a bubbly drink. They found that the color-producing structures in feathers appear to self-assemble in much the same manner. Bubbles of water form in a protein-rich soup inside the living cell and are replaced with air as the feather grows.

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