Ward Hunt Ice Shelf

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf in the Arctic, located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. During the twentieth century the Ellesmere Ice Shelf broke up into six separate shelves, the largest being Ward Hunt. Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is about convert|155|sqmi|km2 in size, and has been in place for approximately 3,000 years as part of a continuous ice shelf that encompasses the northern coast of Ellesmere Island until the beginning of the twentieth century. In 2005 one of the other shelves, the convert|25|sqmi|km2|adj=on Ayles Ice Shelf, calved completely.

The Ellesmere ice shelf was documented by the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76, in which Lieutenant Pelham Aldrich's party went from Cape Sheridan (82.47°N, 61.50°W) west to Cape Alert (82.27°N, 85.55°W), including the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. [Jeffries, Martin O. [http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic39-1-15.pdf Ice Island Calvings and Ice Shelf Changes, Milne Ice Shelf and Ayles Ice Shelf, Ellesmere Island, N.W.T.] . "Arctic" 39 (1) (March 1986)]

The Ward Hunt ice sheet began breaking up approximately 100 years ago, but was believed to have stabilized by the early 1980s. However, in April 2000, satellite images revealed that a large crack in the ice had begun to form, and in 2003, it was announced that the ice sheet had split completely in two in 2002, releasing a huge pool of fresh water from the largest epishelf lake in the Northern Hemisphere, located in Disraeli Fjord. [cite web|url=http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/wardhunt/ |title=Breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf |author=NASA Earth Observatory] In April 2008, it was discovered that the shelf was fractured into dozens of deep, multi-faceted cracks. [cite web|url=http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/413838 |title=Cracks in Arctic ice shelf signal its demise |author=Bob Weber, The Canadian Press] It seems likely the shelf is disintegrating. In late July 2008, it was announced that nearly convert|8|sqmi|km2|lk=on broke away from the shelf.cite web |url=http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080729/wl_canada_nm/canada_arctic_col |title= Giant chunks break off Canadian ice shelf |accessdate=2008-07-29 |author=David Ljunggren |date=29 July 2008|work= |publisher=Reuters]

The icebergs released by the breakup now pose a potential danger to shipping and offshore development in the region. Loss of microbial ecosystems caused by the release of the freshwater may also have far-ranging ecological impacts.

The breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is tied to steady and dramatic increases in the average temperature of the region over the past decades, correlated with global warming.


External links

* http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/wardhunt/
* http://www.nasa.gov/missions/earth/f_iceshelf.html
* http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0924-06.htm

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