Editor's Summary

4 August 2005

A long shelf life


In January 2002 part of the Larsen B ice shelf began to collapse and separate from the Antarctic continent: thousands of icebergs were set adrift in the Weddell Sea. In five years the shelf has shrunk by 5,700 km2. That raises the important question of whether such a catastrophic collapse is unusual in climate history, or just par for the course. An examination of data from the only marine sediment cores available from the region indicates that the Larsen B ice shelf has been in existence since the end of the last glacial period 10,000 years ago, and that its recent collapse exceeds the limits of natural variability during the Holocene. This long-term view is critical to evaluating the relative role of natural and human factors in the collapse of the Larsen B system. The cover photo, taken on 23 February 2005 by Dave Tewksbury from R/V Laurence M. Gould, shows a new fjord on the Oscar II coast, created by the collapse.

LetterStability of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene epoch

Eugene Domack, Diana Duran, Amy Leventer, Scott Ishman, Sarah Doane, Scott McCallum, David Amblas, Jim Ring, Robert Gilbert and Michael Prentice

doi:10.1038/nature03908