An enormous section of Antarctica’s Larsen Ice Shelf collapsed and splintered into thousands of icebergs this week after one of the region’s warmest recorded summers. The section, designated Larsen B, was 650 feet thick and about the size of Rhode Island. Although scientists stopped short of attributing the collapse to global warming, they did say the area disintegrated with astounding rapidity and noted that it had survived 12,000 years of natural climate change before human activity began altering the environment. Temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula, where the ice shelf is located, have been gradually increasing for 50 years, and the area is considered an early indicator of the impacts of global warming. In 1995, the northernmost part of the shelf, Larsen A, collapsed in a similar event; the shelf is now about 40 percent of its original size.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.