A European satellite has reported rapid ice shelf disintegration in Antarctica’s Larsen Ice Shelf according to a news story posted yesterday on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) website, http://www.esa.int
As ESA’s Envisat satellite marks ten years in orbit, it continues to observe the rapid retreat of one of Antarctica’s ice shelves due to climate warming. One of the satellite’s first observations following its launch on 1 March 2002 was of break-up of a main section of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica – when 3200 square km of ice disintegrated within a few days due to mechanical instabilities of the ice masses triggered by climate warming.
Now, with ten years of observations using its Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR), Envisat has mapped an additional loss in Larsen B’s area of 1790 sq km over the past decade.
ESA, established in 1975, is a 19 member intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space with headquarters in Paris.
Envisat – for Environmental Satellite - is an Earth-observing satellite launched on 1 March 2002 aboard an Ariane 5 from the Guyana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guyana, into a Sun synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of 790 km (490 mi) and It orbits the Earth in about 101 minutes with a repeat cycle of 35 days.
The Larsen Ice Shelf is a series of three shelves – A (the smallest), B and C (the largest) – that extend from north to south along the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Larsen A disintegrated in January 1995. Larsen C so far has been stable in area, but satellite observations have shown thinning and an increasing duration of melt events in summer.
“Ice shelves are sensitive to atmospheric warming and to changes in ocean currents and temperatures,” said Professor Helmut Rott from the University of Innsbruck.
“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.”
Larsen B decreased in area from 11512 square km in early January 1995 to 6664 square km in February 2002 due to several calving events. The disintegration in March 2002 left behind only 3463 square km.
Today, Envisat shows that only 1670 square km now remain.