Ice shelves in West Antarctica Crosson and Venable shrunk by 18%, says ESA

Satellite data collected between 1994 and 2012 has revealed that there’s an accelerating decline in the size of the huge ice shelves floating in the Antarctica. Some of them have experienced shrinking of as much as 18%; scientists are saying that this change in size of the ice shelves will eventually result in a significant rise in global sea levels.

These findings were published in the latest edition of the widely read journal Science. Scientists have come up with these facts at a time when the entire world is concerned about the kind of impact global climate change will have on the vast polar regions of our planet.


As mentioned above, the study was based on information collected during 18 years of continuous monitoring. During this phase, an area of 1,075,000 sq. km or 415,000 sq. miles was observed by three satellite missions carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA).

During the initial half of the study i.e. till around 2003 the volume decline noticed in Antarctica was pretty small. Scientists say that during this phase the volume lost in West Antarctica was perfectly balanced by the gains taking place in East Antarctica. However, the following years witnessed a different kind of change.

Helen Fricker, a scientist representing the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, informed that the speed of decline in the size of the Antarctic ice shelves has only increased in the past two decades. For instance, two of the most prominent ice shelves in West Antarctica Crosson and Venable have shrunk by 18% between 1994 and 2012.

According to Fernando Paolo, a geophysics doctoral candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, if the loss rates observed during the study period sustain a large share of ice shelves in the Bellingshausen (the sea that houses Venable) and Amundsen (the sea that houses Crosson) seas might disappear.

For those who don’t know: the global sea levels will not be affected directly by melting of Antarctic ice shelves as the shelves existed as floating structures. Paolo compared the situation with a glass of tonic and gin; melting of ice cubes in a glass of gin doesn’t result in the increase in the level of drink in the glass.

However, reduction of the floating shelves of ice will allow land-based ice to move into the ocean and thereby increase the sea levels.