In Antarctica, a block of ice the size of the cities of Los Angeles or Rome broke off on a day marked by abnormally high temperatures. This is one of the largest ice shelf collapses in 20 years.
A 1,200 square kilometer ice barrier collapsed on March 15 in East Antarctica, at the very start of an exceptional heat wave on the continent.
Record heat recorded on the day of the collapse
Between March 15 and 20, Antarctica experienced temperatures 30 to 40°C higher than seasonal averages .
In certain areas located in the mountains, absolute heat records have been recorded: on March 18, the Concordia station, located at an altitude of 3,234 meters, recorded -12.2°C, i.e. nearly 40°C at above seasonal averages. This is the highest temperature recorded there in any month.
Some coastal areas experienced positive temperatures while at this time temperatures are expected to drop, as the South Pole enters the fall.
The collapse of the Conger Ice Shelf occurred on March 15, the first day of this warm spell, but scientists observed the first signs of weakening between March 5 and March 7 thanks to satellite data. It is therefore likely that the unusual heat precipitated the collapse of the already weakened block of ice.
If blocks of ice are detached regularly , and naturally, in Antarctica, this one is considered one of the most important collapses for more than 20 years.
The nearest weather station to the collapse zone, Casey, is 300 kilometers away and recorded a temperature of 5.6°C on March 15. This is a new record, beating the previous one from March 2021 (4.
East Antarctica seemed so far protected from global warming
More than the size of the block of ice that broke off, it is its location on the continent that is of greater concern . The Conger Platform is located in East Antarctica, an area that glaciologists considered less affected by climate change until recently.
East Antarctica is indeed reputed to be much more stable than the west, an area in which collapses are common and the loss of ice has been accelerating for 50 years. The Conger platform began to shrink since the 1970s, and has shown more striking signs of disintegration in the past 10 years.
Will the collapse of such a gigantic block have consequences? No noticeable effect, yet, but the ice shelves help stabilize the ice sheet . “ These are floating masses of frozen water that extend the glaciers sitting on the continent.
The disappearance of a platform does not directly raise the sea level since it is already floating on the ocean, but it does so secondarily by causing the acceleration of the flow of the glaciers upstream. The role of these foothills is therefore essential in stabilizing the Antarctic ice cap, which itself rests on solid ground,” explains Global Climat.
Note that the extent of ice in Antarctica during the month of February is the lowest on record, with 29.6% below average.