The Irish Times view on the melting ice shelf: a warning from Antarctica

Satellite images released by Nasa confirm the demise of the Conger ice shelf

The collapse of the Conger ice shelf in East Antarctica, with a surface area of 1,200 sq km, coincides with polar regions experiencing unusually high temperatures way above seasonal norms. This is being linked to an "atmospheric river" trapping heat over the continent. Ice shelves are extensions of ice sheets that float over the ocean. Without them, inland ice flows faster into the sea. While they lose mass as part of their natural behaviour, the large-scale collapse of an ice shelf is a very unusual event.

This is one of the most significant collapse events in East Antarctica since the early 2000s. The Conger ice shelf’s break-up will not trigger much sea-level rise because it was floating. It serves as a grave warning, however, of what is inevitable over coming decades due to human-induced overheating of the Earth.

Warming in polar regions is happening at a much faster rate than overall global average temperature rise. Another shocking manifestation of this is increased wildfires in the Arctic. With each fraction of a degree rise, more and more ice sheets will break up. Many will be far bigger that this one, threatening tens of millions of people living in coastal communities.

Satellite images released by a Nasa scientist confirmed the demise of the Conger ice shelf. Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia has experienced yet another mass bleaching event. Aerial surveys show bleaching stretching over 1,200 km of the ecosystem. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said it was an "alarming milestone" marking the first time a mass bleaching event has taken place in a cooler La Niña year.


Irish scientist Prof Terry Hughes, a leading expert on coral bleaching, said he had received a "flood of reports from the field" of bleached corals and it was "not mild or local". Rising ocean temperatures driven by carbon emissions have been shown to have caused five mass bleaching events since 1998. Over the course of one day, the world has revealed it is under extreme stress – yet more proof that the climate crisis continues and our response falls hopelessly short of what is required.