Thanks to a hot summer and global warming, scientists said much of Canada’s remaining intact ice shelf has broken apart into hulking iceberg islands.
Canada’s 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island ‘s northwestern edge was the last intact ice shelf in the world, but at the end of July ice analyst Adrienne White, of the Canadian Ice Service, found that satellite photos showed around 43 percent of it had broken off. She said this happened on 30 or 31 July. Two giant icebergs formed, along with many smaller ones, and have already begun to drift away, White said. The largest is almost Manhattan’s size—21 square miles, and 7 miles long. They are between 230 and 260 feet tall.
“This is a huge, huge block of ice,” White said. “If one of these is moving toward an oil rig, there’s nothing you can really do aside from move your oil rig.”
The ondulating white ice shelf of ridges and troughs dotted with blue meltwater was 72 square miles, larger than the Columbia District — but it is now down to 41 square miles.
Temperatures in the region from May to early August were 9 degrees warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, said Luke Copland, professor of glaciology at the University of Ottawa. This is on top of an Arctic that had already warmed up much more quickly than the rest of the globe, with this region warming up even faster.
“Without a doubt, it’s climate change,” Copland said, noting the ice shelf is melting from both hotter air above and warmer water below.
“The Milne was very special,” he added. “It’s an amazingly pretty location.”
Ice shelves are hundreds to thousands of years old, thicker than long-term sea ice, but not as big and old as glaciers, Copland said.
Canada used to have a broad continuous ice shelf across the northern coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut ‘s Canadian territory but, according to White, it has been breaking down over the last decades due to man-made global warming. By 2005, she said, it was down to six total ice shelves, but “the Milne was really the last complete ice shelf.”
“There aren’t very many ice shelves around the Arctic anymore,” Copland said. “It seems we’ve lost pretty much all of them from northern Greenland and the Russian Arctic. There may be a few in a few protected fjords.”