An ancient ice shelf has cracked off northern Ellesmere Island, creating an enormous 66-square-kilometre ice island and leaving a trail of icy blocks in its wake. “It really is incredible,” said Warwick Vincent of Universite Laval, one of the few people to have laid eyes on the scene. “It’s like a cruise missile has come down and hit the ice shelf.”
The breakup was so powerful, earthquake monitors 250 kilometres away picked up the tremors as the 3,000- to 4,500-year-old shelf tore away from its fjord on Ellesmere. It broke up 16 months ago, but no one was present to see it. The scientists say they are only now making public details after piecing together what occurred using seismic monitors and Canadian and U.S. satellites. They say the ice shelf collapse, suspected to have been caused by global warming, is the biggest in Canada in 30 years and is indicative of the transformation under way on Ellesmere, Canada’s most northern land mass.
“We are seeing incredible changes,” said Vincent, whose group is studying the island’s disappearing ice shelves and their unique ecosystems. “People talk of endangered animals - well, these are endangered landscape features and we’re losing them.” The Ayles ice shelf was one of six ice shelves left in Canada, remnants of a vast icy fringe that used to cover the top end of Ellesmere. Scientists consider the Canadian shelves, located about 800 kilometres south of the North Pole, sentinels that reflect the accelerating change in the Arctic. In 2002, one of Vincent’s graduate students, Derek Mueller, discovered that Ellesmere’s Ward Hunt ice shelf had cracked in half. The researchers have also seen the sudden collapse of ice dams and the draining of 30-kilometre-long lakes into the sea.
The shelves are 90 per cent smaller than they were when Arctic explorer Robert Peary crossed them in 1906. And the Ayles ice shelf can be erased from Canada’s maps. “It no longer exists,” Vincent said.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Move Along...Nothing to See Here
In our continuing effort to depress you, here is another cheery story. There is, of course, no such thing as Global Warming as our GOP leadership continues to assure us. Right, explain this away.