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南极巨型冰架突然崩裂

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华盛顿电: 周二,据科学家们所说,一块面积约七个曼哈顿岛大小的南极巨型冰架突然崩裂,致使一块面积更大的冰川冰岌岌可危。

卫星图片显示,这块位于南极洲西部的面积160平方英里的冰架不可控的崩裂始于2月28日。它是威尔金斯冰架的边缘部分,之前在那里已有数百年——乃至1500年。

英国南极考察科学家大卫·沃恩说,冰块破裂是全球气候变暖的结果。

由于在几小时内对卫星图片的观测,科学家们得以调整卫星照相机的方向,甚至出动一架飞机飞抵到正发生破裂的冰块上空,拍摄了罕有的照片和录像。科罗拉多州玻尔得国家雪冰数据国家冰雪数据中心的首席科学家特德·斯坎博斯所说:“我们并不经常看到这种事件。伴随充满水的裂缝越来越大,冰块轰然倒塌……这是一种无法控制的局面。”

而沃恩说,冰山自然脱离南极大陆并伴随类似破裂极为罕见,但在最近几十年,这种事情却日益频繁。他认为,这次破裂类似于用锤子击打硬化玻璃的情形。

威尔金斯冰架的面积相当于康涅狄格州,其所剩的部分由一个狭窄的薄冰梁柱支撑。科学家担忧这个冰架也可能出现崩裂。此前,更大规模的冰块崩裂发生在1995年和2002年。

根据沃恩先前的推测,大约此后15年内威尔金斯冰架将崩裂。最近分裂掉的冰块占整个冰架约4%,尽管比例不大,但这是可能触发进一步崩裂的重要部分。

沃恩说,威尔金斯冰架剩余部分仍然有机会在2009年继续存在,原因是南极洲的夏季即将结束,更寒冷的天气很快要到来了。 

科学家们表示,这次崩裂与海平面上升虽然并无联系,但他们指出,崩裂无疑是全球气候变暖日趋严重的一个征兆。

伍兹霍尔海洋研究所的科学家莎拉·达斯说:“类似事件在更大程度上说明,在气候系统中存在着一个引爆点或者触发器。”

达斯还说:“崩裂的冰块不可能再次形成,一旦失去就再也找不回来了。”

相对于世界其它地区而言,南极洲的气候更为复杂也更为特殊。

    沃恩说,绝大部分地区并不温暖,一些地区甚至异常寒冷。然而,包括威尔金斯冰架在内的西半岛由于突出到海洋,温度相对较高。而对于南极洲的这整个半岛,科学家最关注的是因冰川融化导致的海平面上升。

译文:Western Antarctic ice chunk collapses

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 160-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the ongoing collapse for rare pictures and video.

"It's an event we don't get to see very often," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. "The cracks fill with water and slice off and topple... That gets to be a runaway situation."

While icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses like this are unusual but are happening more frequently in recent decades, Vaughan said. The collapse is similar to what happens to hardened glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he said.

The rest of the Wilkins ice shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995.

Vaughan had predicted the Wilkins shelf would collapse about 15 years from now. The part that recently gave way makes up about 4 percent of the overall shelf, but it's an important part that can trigger further collapse.

There's still a chance the rest of the ice shelf will survive until next year because this is the end of the Antarctic summer and colder weather is setting in, Vaughan said.

Scientists said they are not concerned about a rise in sea level from the latest event, but say it's a sign of worsening global warming.

Such occurrences are "more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system," said Sarah Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

"These are things that are not re-forming," Das said. "So once they're gone, they're gone."

Climate in Antarctica is complicated and more isolated from the rest of the world.

Much of the continent is not warming and some parts are even cooling, Vaughan said. However, the western peninsula, which includes the Wilkins ice shelf, juts out into the ocean and is warming. This is the part of the continent where scientists are most concern about ice-melt triggering sea level rise.

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