May 19, 2007
Climate Change Alert
Photo: Universite Laval Technician Dennis Sarrazin stands on Ayles Ice Island in the Arctic Ocean in May 2006. The ice island formed in August 2005 when the Ayles Ice Shelf, which was between 3,000 and 4,500 years old, cracked off Ellesmere Island and slid into the sea. It is 66 square kilometres in area and between 30 and 40 metres thick, making it the largest ice island in Canada in 30 years.Photograph by : The Canadian Press, file
A Manhattan-sized ice island off the northwest coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island could soon be on the move because of extraordinary conditions in the eastern Arctic - a "sentinel" of climate change, being fitted with a tracking device, that can be followed in real time as it travels the Arctic. Huge cracks and areas of open water have been appearing near the Ayles Ice Island in recent weeks. The ice island formed in August 2005 when the Ayles Ice Shelf, which was between 3,000 and 4,500 years old, cracked off Ellesmere Island and slid into the sea. It is 66 square kilometres in area and between 30 and 40 metres thick, making it the LARGEST ICE ISLAND IN CANADA IN 30 YEARS. The island could soon start moving because of the remarkable ice loss occurring in the nearby Lincoln Sea at the northeastern tip of Ellesmere. The sea is losing vast amounts of ice because the Nares Strait ice bridge, which normally forms between Ellesmere Island and Baffin Island in December - and prevents the Arctic ice from moving south, did not form this winter. The loss is also generating enormous fractures in the polar pack ice, some of them hundreds of kilometres long. Large parts of the Lincoln Sea "have essentially been ice-free for the last month or two, which is EXTREMELY UNUSUAL." Huge slabs of thick, hard multi-year ice up to 90-kilometres across have been breaking free in the Lincoln Sea and sailing south, bound for the waters off Labrador and Newfoundland. The ice is coming down and breaking up as it travels through Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea. Some chunks have been spotted as far south as Fogo Island off Newfoundland. In the past, large ice islands have migrated around the Arctic for 40 to 50 years. The big question now is whether Ayles Island, which is expected to head toward the southwest, will become stuck in Canada's Arctic islands, or head for the Beaufort Sea - a prospect that worries oil companies. The Ayles Ice Shelf was one of six ice shelves left in Canada, remnants of a vast icy fringe that covered the top end of Ellesmere for eons.