An Antarctic ice shelf nearly 14,000 square kilometres in size has started to disintegrate due to rapid climate change, scientists say.
Satellite images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States show a large iceberg about 41 kilometres long and 2.5 kilometres wide had fallen off the Wilkins ice shelf on February 28.
This triggered the collapse of 405 square kilometres of the shelf's interior.
The Wilkins ice shelf is a large plate of floating ice about 1600km below South America in a fast-warming Antarctic region that has been heating up at about half a degree every decade.
"We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up."
scientist Lee Scambos said,
"The Wilkins disintegration won't raise sea level because it already floats in the ocean, and few glaciers flow into it," he said.
"However, the collapse underscores that the Wilkins region has experienced an intense melt season. Regional sea ice has all but vanished, leaving the ice shelf exposed to the action of waves."
- NZ HERALD STAFF