Tracking changes on the Wilkins Ice Shelf •

Tracking changes on the Wilkins Ice Shelf

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the Wilkins Ice Shelf, a massive floating ice shelf located on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The ice shelf acts as a natural barrier, slowing the flow of glaciers into the ocean. It is named after Sir Hubert Wilkins, an Australian explorer and aviator who conducted pioneering research in the area. 

According to NASA, the shelf’s northern ice front has undergone a series of rapid breakups since the 1990s, and it has been shedding icebergs ever since.

“In contrast, the shelf’s southern ice front has been historically stable, according to maps from the U.S. Geological Survey. But scientists have noticed recent signs of structural weaknesses here, too, potentially signaling a shift in the shelf’s stability,” said NASA.

“As a result, scientists have been keeping a close watch on Wilkins and tracking how it is changing. Losses to ice shelves do not contribute directly to sea level rise, but they are important indicators of climate change, and they slow the seaward movement of inland glacial ice.”

NASA noted that this region is exceptionally cloudy, and nearly cloud-free views like these are rare. “Notice the small hole in the Wilkins Ice Shelf that exposes the underlying ocean. This oddity has persisted for decades and is thought to be a rare phenomenon.”

The image was captured on January 24, 2024 by the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. 

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory


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