March 25, 2008 (Bloomberg) -- An Antarctic ice shelf bigger than Connecticut risks collapse because of global warming after a retreat that began on Feb. 28, the British Antarctic Survey said.
The Wilkins ice shelf, which lost 1,000 square kilometers (390 square miles) of ice, or about 6 percent of its surface, in 1998, calved another 570 square kilometers since February, the survey group said in an e-mailed statement. Now, there's little to stop the loss of another several thousand square kilometers.
"The rest seems to be held a bit by a thread," David Vaughan, a scientist at the group who in 1993 predicted Wilkins would break apart within 30 years, said today in a telephone interview from Cambridge, England. "We predicted it would happen, but it's happened twice as fast as we predicted."
The collapse of Wilkins would have few implications for sea levels because it's already floating and doesn't hold back large land-based glaciers, Vaughan said. Still, it may foreshadow future melting in the southern continent, which combined with Greenland holds enough ice to raise sea levels by 64 meters.
"The importance of it is it's further south than any ice shelf we've seen retreating before, it's bigger than any ice shelf we've seen retreating before and in the long term it could be a taste of other things to come if climate change continues in the Antarctic," Vaughan said.