UNEP Warns of Collapse of Antarctic Ice Bridge

© UNEP7 April 2009: According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA), the collapse of an ice bridge linking the Wilkins ice shelf to two Antarctic islands may indirectly influence sea level rise, as the decay of the ice shelf will reduce the stability of the glaciers that are feeding it.

The Wilkins shelf, which is the size of Jamaica, has been retreating since the 1990s. It is one of many Antarctic ice shelves that have begun to break up over the past few decades and is part of the Antarctic Peninsula, which has seen some of the most dramatic temperature increases in the area.

Christian Lambrechts, Policy and Programme Officer, UNEP DEWA, warned that the development was significant, noting that “the collapse of the ice bridge will expose a new expanse of sea surfaces that absorb an increased amount of solar radiation, contributing to continued and accelerated warming.”

A 2008 report released by UNEP and the World Glacial Monitoring Service (WGMS) showed that the average rate of glacial melting and thinning more than doubled between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006. The estimates, based on measuring the thickness of glacier ice, indicated an average loss of around 1.5 meters in 2006, up from just over half a meter in 2005. [UNEP press release]