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Connecticut-Sized Ice Shelf Crumbling in Antarctica

Warmer air temperatures have triggered the collapse of an enormous ice shelf along the coast of Antarctica, scientists say.

Antarctica's Wilkins Ice Shelf is a plate of permanent floating ice that covers an area the size of Connecticut. The shelf started to collapse late last month, when a large iceberg 25 miles long broke off and floated away. Since then, an area the size of Chicago has broken up, probably because of warming and the action of waves.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that air temperatures in this part of Antarctica, in the continent's southwestern peninsula, have risen dramatically over the past 50 years. This has hastened the melting and breakup of several other ice shelves in the Antarctic. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is the largest one to experience such widespread collapse.

Scientists point out that the latest breakup won't raise worldwide sea levels since the ice shelf is floating in the ocean already.

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Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.