Canada’s largest and last fully intact ice shelf, in the northeastern province of Nunavut, collapsed in July. According to scientists, the surface of the plateau has decreased by almost half as a result.
Within days, the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf, near Ellesmere Island, decreased in area by 50 square miles (43 percent).
The rupture – also called the calving process – occurred on July 30 and 31, Canadian scientists write. Initially, a second ‘island’ was formed by the breach, but that too broke in two a little later, on 3 August. As a result, various separate plateaus have now been created.
Scientists point to climate change as the cause of the rupture. This summer it will be on average 5 degrees warmer than between 1981 and 2010. “The region is warming two to three times faster than in the rest of the world. The Milne Ice Shelf and the other ice shelves in Canada are not able to cope with this and will will disappear in the coming decades, ”warns Luke Copland, a researcher at the University of Ottawa.
The calving process of the Milne ice shelf at the end of July. (Photo: Dr. Adrienne White – Canadian Ice Service)
Ice shelf seen as ‘safe’ from climate change
Although ice shelves break more often in the Canadian Arctic Ocean area, the Milne Ice Shelf has long been considered the least vulnerable to climate change due to its location in a fjord protecting the ice shelf.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Milne Ice Shelf was about 8,600 square kilometers. By 2000, that area had already decreased to 1,050 square kilometers. As the two ice islands detached in July will drift south, they could potentially pose a threat to oil platforms and ships.
The Milne Ice Shelf is about 70 to 80 meters thick. Because the ice is so thick, the ice shelf could, as it were, form a dam around the melt water. This created a special freshwater lake. A few years ago, scientists used underwater cameras to study the lake’s ecosystem. Among other things, shells and sea anemones were discovered.