The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Envisat satellite has its eye on the Ice Shelf, making updates of its position within Wilkins Sound on the western portion of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Envisat, short for Environmental Satellite, is an Earth-observation satellite that was launched on March 1, 2002, by the ESA.
It orbits the Earth at about 790 kilometers (475 miles) above the Earth’s surface in a Sun synchronous polar orbit (that is, it passes over the same spot on the Earth at the same time each day).
For the past five months or so, the satellite has observed new rifts on the Ice Shelf that appear to signal the eventual demise of the ice bridge.
According to the March 3, 2009 Associated Press article Ice shelf about to break away from Antarctic coast, as it referred to an ESA report: "’The beginning of what appears to be the demise of the ice bridge began this week when new rifts’ appeared and a large block of ice broke away….”
If such a breaking up of the bridge occurs, it could spell the end of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, which is located between the western coastline of Alexander Island and Charcot Island and Latady Island, further to the west.
Page two contains the website to see images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf from the Envisat "Webcam" high above the Earth.
The ESA Observing the Earth website called “'Webcam’ from Space” contains updating images from the Envisat satellite as its Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument looks down upon the Wilkins Ice Shelf. [ESA: “Keeping an eye on Wilkins Ice Shelf”]
The ASAR instrument can detect changes in surface heights on the Earth, with the use of radar from its highly directional rotating antenna, with a precision of as little as a millimeter.
The ice bridge is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) in length and only a few kilometers in width.
Having formed over the past thousands of years as ice and snow build up, the Wilkins Ice Shelf has been steadily decreasing such formation for the past twenty years.
In fact, early last year, a 425 square-kilometer (164 square-mile) chunk of it broke off, and another smaller piece broke off in the middle of the year.
As warmer conditions continue to evade the South Pole of the Earth, the ice bridge has been exceptionally vulnerable to breaking up due to the warmer temperatures that are occurring in the Antarctic.
However, scientists continue to investigate to see if the warming global climate is directly to blame for the breakup of the Wilkins Ice Shelf.
For articles relating to the global climate change, along with additional information on this Wilkins Ice Shelf story, check out the CNN article "Large ice shelf expected to break from Antarctica."