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4/10/2009

UN sounds warning after Antarctica ice shelf rips

PARIS (AFP) — The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said the breakway of a Jamaica-sized ice shelf from the Antarctic peninsula could accelerate global warming in this already vulnerable region.
Satellite pictures show a 40-kilometre (25-mile) ice bridge that was the Wilkins Ice Shelf's last link to the coast had now shattered at its narrowest point, about 500 metres (yards) wide, UNEP said.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf once covered around 16,000 square kilometres (6,000 square miles) before it began to retreat in the 1990s, and by last May the ice bridge was all that connected it to Charcot and Latady islands.
The loss of the bridge "may now allow ocean currents to wash away far more of the shelf," UNEP said.
Christian Lambrechts, a policy and programme officer with UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment, said this would expose more of the sea's surface to sunlight, rather than reflect it, in turn "contributing to continued and accelerated warming."
Image: A chunk of ice that started to break away from the Antarctic Wilkins Ice Shelf in 2008
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