Canada’s last fully intact ice shelf collapses in Arctic

The Milne Ice Shelf from the western side of Milne Fjord. (Luke Copland/Courtesy Carleton University)
The Milne Ice Shelf in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut has collapsed, and was the last fully intact ice shelf in the country, the Canadian Ice Service said in a tweet on Sunday.

Ice shelves are ice sheets that are attached to the shore line. The Milne Ice Shelf was located on the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago.

‘Recipe for break up’

All of Canada’s ice shelves are on Ellesmere Island says the Environment Canada website.

At the beginning of the 1900s, there was a 450 km ice sheet around the island that than broke up into six different ice shelves by the beginning of the 2000s, the department says.

Ice shelves in the Arctic are created by snow accumulating at the top of glaciers, while at the bottom, ice combines with multi-year land fast ice.

The Canadian Ice Service said in a tweet on Sunday that the break up caused the formation of an ice island that was approximately 72km squared. 

“Above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up,” the service said. 

“The initial break of this 4,000-year-old feature took place between July 30 and 31 and reduced the ice shelf area from 187 km2 to 106 km2 (43 per cent),” said a news release from Ottawa’s Carleton University, were several Milne Ice Shelf researchers work.  “One large ice island was created at that time, but it split into two pieces (55 km2 and 24 km2) along with numerous smaller icebergs by August 3.” 

Danger to ships, oil rigs to be monitored

Luke Copland, University Research Chair in Glaciology in the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa, says the Milne Ice Shelf’s collapse is a reminder of the effects climate change is having on the Canadian Arctic.

“This summer has been up to 5°C warmer than the average over the period from 1981 to 2010, and the region has been warming at two to three times the global rate,” he said in the news release. “The Milne and other ice shelves in Canada are simply not viable any longer and will disappear in the coming decades.”

Adrienne White, an ice analyst at the Canadian Ice Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, who has worked on the Milne Ice Shelf in the past and discovered the Ellesmere Island event says the broken off ice islands are now 70 to 80 metres thick and will need to be closely monitored so as not to risk the safety of boats or oil rigs as they travel. 

“The ice islands are currently free-floating and mobile but for now they are confined to the coastline by pack ice,” White said.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Fresh water is pouring into the Arctic Ocean. Climate change is to blame, new study says, CBC News

Greenland: COVID-19 delay, early ice melt challenge international Arctic science mission, The Associated Press

Iceland: Ice-free Arctic summers likely by 2050, even with climate action: study, Radio Canada International

Norway: Norway to expand network of electric car chargers across Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Record 38C temperature recorded in Arctic Siberia, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: January temperatures about 10°C above normal in parts of northern Sweden, says weather service, Radio Sweden

United States: How sub-Arctic seas are influencing the Arctic Ocean and what it’s telling us about climate change, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

2 thoughts on “Canada’s last fully intact ice shelf collapses in Arctic

  • Friday, August 7, 2020 at 16:39

    Thank you! ‘The truth shall set us free!’ (I hope there’s time!)

  • Saturday, August 8, 2020 at 10:09

    …and, back at the ranch, the government wants to subsidize expansion of the largest coal mine in N. America.

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