Ice breakup carries huge warning

March 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A huge chunk of ice that's been attached to Antarctica for as long as 1,500 years, has broken loose. Scientists are documenting the break-up with video and satellite images. This is a rare look at the effects of global warming, that bring with it an urgent warning.

These are the remains of a massive chunk of glacial ice, seven times the size of Manhattan, that broke off the Wilkins Ice Shelf Tuesday in Antarctica.

"This is the biggest piece that's fallen off in the last couple of decades," said Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University.

It's the eighth major ice shelf break in 15 years.

According to Professor Chris Field Ph.D. at the Carnegie Institution for Science, at Stanford, the reason is global warming.

"In the last 50 years, the average annual temperature has gone up five degrees, that's like taking San Jose and moving it to Bakersfield. It's a lot warmer than it was a few decades ago," said Field.

The rise in temperature is essentially, melting the ice shelves, which act as walls to hold back the ice that's on the ground in the arctic, Antarctica, and Greenland. When the shelves are gone, the ground ice can seep into the water causing sea levels to rise.

"That would inundate coastal areas in the U.S. and around the world. Many islands would disappear, many countries that have low lying shores and high populations in those coastal areas, would be flooded," said Jacobson.

In the next century sea levels are supposed to rise 1-2 feet, but if this trend continues, it could rise as high as five to six.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf disintegrated faster than scientists expected. The image shows the area starting to crumble, on February 29th. By March 8th, it was twice the size.

"I think it shows we're not working hard enough to solve the problem," said Field.

Field says the solution is using fewer fossil fuels. Unless global policies to cut emissions are adopted, the worst case scenario of living in an ice free world, could become a reality.

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