Antarctica’s Ice Shelf Shrinking, Shrinking, Shrinking… (Slideshow)

One of Antarctica’s ice shelves has shrunk by 85 percent in the past 17 years according to images taken by the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Envisat satellite and scientists say that climate change is the reason.

In 1995, the Larsen B ice shelf was 11,512 square kilometers (4,373 square miles), an area about the size of Qatar. Now it is only 1,670 sq km (634 miles). Prof. Helmut Rott of the University of Innsbruck said that the satellite’s images indeed “confirm the vulnerability of ice shelves to climatic warming and demonstrate the importance of ice shelves for the stability of glaciers upstream.”

Ice shelves are thick masses of floating ice made from runoff from glaciers and are attached to the shore. They differ from ice sheets, which are vast masses of glacier ice that cover Antarctica. Ice shelves are highly sensitive to changes in the temperature and can be hollowed out from below by warmer ocean currents. Ice sheets seem to be stable so far; were they to melt, sea levels would rise and endanger coastal cities and small island states.

Disintegration of the Larsen Ice Shelf

The Larsen ice shelf is a series of three ice shelves that run from north to south on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The smallest shelf, A, disintegrated in 1995, says the ESA. C appears stable so far, but Envisat has revealed that it too is thinning and that “melt events” are occurring for longer periods in the summer.

Larsen B collapse

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Larsen B ice shelf had disintegrated in 2002, after the then-warmest summer on record.  These images show the 2002 disintegration and the fragments that remained until 2005:

Fragments of Larsen B Ice Shelf Lingered Until 2005

Image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon (NASA Earth Observatory) via Wikimedia Commons

Again, Prof. Rott specifically points to global warming as a factor in the melting of ice shelves:

“The northern Antarctic Peninsula has been subject to atmospheric warming of about 2.5°C over the last 50 years – a much stronger warming trend than on global average, causing retreat and disintegration of ice shelves.”

This graphic shows how temperatures increased from 1981 to 2007 in Antarctica, contributing to the shrinking of the Larsen ice shelf.

Antarctic Temperature Trend 1981-2007

Image by Robert Simmon via Wikimedia Commons

An image of the Larsen ice shelf today  in 2012 can be seen via the ESA‘s site; this animation reveals how the shelf is melting.

The Envisat satellite has been in operation for twice as long as planned. Scientists are planning for it to make more observations of Earth’s ice caps, land, oceans and atmosphere for at least the next two years — such continued monitoring is crucial to predict what might happen to the much larger ice masses of West Antarctica, if warming spreads further south.

Related Care2 Coverage

The fate of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is About to be Decided

Japanese Tsunami Shattered Antarctica’s Ice Shelf

New Ice Age Data Emphasizes the Dangers of Greenhouse Gases

Image of the Larsen Ice Shelf by Ben Holt - NASA via Wikimedia Commons

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Michael K.
Michael K.3 years ago

Actually, Antarctic has been increased even more since the article was published-and headed recently to learn an issue sea expedition finds more data supporting this notion surely.

Well, with no extra-modesty an author might suggest “The X-Challenge: Realm of Senses” might point a hint to readers searching for a reality of planetary environment.

Michael Kerjman

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda3 years ago

I've been watching the melting of the ice with great sadness for some years.
It won't affect me, but it will affect all the lovely children and young people, as well as animals and plants. Very sad to know that we have people on this earth who don't care and who actively support greenhouse gas emission and other pollution.
Check out:
Plant trees on Care2 with your butterfly points.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V.3 years ago


Cal S.
cal shummon3 years ago

FreshWater hmmmmm!

Myron Scott
Myron Scott3 years ago

NOAA has reported that last month was the warmest
March on record. While one warm month (or another and
yet another) do not "prove" global warming, enough of them
in a row with few if any interruptions do tend to prove a
warming trend.

When the air gets warm, ice tends to melt. If the ice is on
top of land (rather than on or in the water) it adds to the total
amount of water in the oceans, raising sea levels.

This ain't brain surgery. Even W figured this out before
the end of his Administration.

Some on the far right and other compulsive denial fans
haven't gotten that far yet.

Harsha Vardhana R

Thanks for the spread of awareness .

Actually this news should be alarming. But we are afraid that our economies may face some downturn (remember, it is not death, but a temporary one). But if Antartica goes down, it is permanent and very dangerous

Lynn C.
Lynn C.3 years ago

Thanks for the very telling photos. Should make it vivid to those who don't understand what it means when presented in the printed form.


It is so sad to see how humans on purpose are kiling the Planet that just gives us the life!!!!!!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

Adapting to global warming is MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE than mitigating global warming. Global warming is likely to destroy agriculture as the climate becomes too hot and dry to support agriculture which is NEEDED to support civilization.

Penny C.
Penny C.3 years ago

Very sad.....