BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The Wilkins Ice Shelf is showing new rifts and an ice bridge holding it to two Antarctic islands is closer to collapsing, U.S. and European scientists say.
The European Space Agency says the shelf, a floating mass of ice about half the size of Scotland, is showing new rifts after losing around 772 square miles of mass so far this year, CNN reported Saturday. Agency scientists say the new rifts indicate an ice bridge connecting it to two Antarctic islands will likely collapse, allowing the ice shelf to drift into the Southern Ocean.
CNN said the scientists first spotted rifts in the Wilkins shelf in late February, the end of Antarctic summer. If it breaks away from the Antarctic peninsula and melts, it would not cause a rise in sea level because it is already floating, nor would it block sea lanes, Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, told the broadcaster.
The western Antarctic peninsula where the Wilkins shelf is located has warmed more than any other place on Earth during the last 50 years, rising by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit each decade, CNN reported.