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Arctic Ice Shelves
September 30, 2011
Traditionally Ward Hunt Island, at the top of Ellesmere Island, has been the starting point for expeditions to the North Geographic Pole. However, in recent years, due to unstable and unpredictable ice conditions Ward Hunt Island has fallen out of favour with expeditioners and the latest research suggests that things are getting worse at an alarming rate.
Canada’s Arctic ice shelves, formations that date back thousands of years, have almost halved in size over the last six years.
Last year, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf was 340 km2 with its central area broken into pieces. This past summer, the central area disintegrated into drifting ice masses, leaving two separate ice shelves: a western (227 km2) and an eastern (74 km2) Ward Hunt Ice Shelf.
In 1906, the Ellesmere Island ice shelves were an estimated 8900 km2 and were reduced to 1043 km2 over the last century. The total extent of Ellesmere ice shelves is now 563 km2 or 54 per cent of what it was prior to the loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf in August 2005.
Consistently higher temperatures in the Canadian Arctic is the main cause of the dramatic decline and affect the ice shelves in two main ways. The warmer temperatures cause the ice shelves to crack and break-up but the pack ice that provides a buffer against the ocean is diminishing leaving the shelves exposed to the waves and currents.
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