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Ward Hunt Ice Shelf

The Calving of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is located on the northeast coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, approximately 800 km from the North Pole.


Background map courtesy of The National Atlas of Canada 5th Edition.

Please note that the 100% occurrence of ice edge was obtained from 1972 to 2004 ice records and updated to include the record low ice year of 2007.

Ward Hunt Ice Shelf has existed for over 3000 years. However, by the summer of 2002 dramatic changes were beginning to take shape. In August of 2002 several iceberg sized pieces of the shelf calved off. By September of the same year, a large fracture had formed in the ice shelf, effectively cutting it in two although the ice did not become mobile. In the winter of 2007/2008, IPY scientists detected a new fracture using high-resolution radars imagery. The newly detected fracture ran parallel and to the east of the original 2002 fracture. During a joint IPY-JTFN expedition, scientists visited the ice shelf and discovered that it was essentially fractured into three main pieces. The ice between these fractures is now unstable.

In July 2008 two ice islands calved from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. The calving was aided by a period of southerly winds over the ice shelf. These winds helped develop an open water lead which the ice islands moved into. According to Dr. Derek Mueller, one of the IPY scientists studying the ice shelf and its break-up, the first calving took place on July 22nd 2008. A chunk of ice approximately 4x2KM broke off to the northwest of the unstable section of the ice shelf. The calving of the second and larger ice island happened on July 24th 2008. This larger calving came from within the unstable section between two large fractures and produced an ice island that is 7x2km in size. The ice islands comprise only a fraction of the remaining unstable ice between the fractures in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. It is very possible that more of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf will calve before this summer is over.


MODIS image of Ward Hunt Ice Shelf


July 23 2008 July 26 2008 July 27 2008


MODIS image of second Ward Hunt Ice Island moving down the open water lead July 31 2008

The Canadian Ice Service thanks NASA, The Canadian Space Agency, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates LTD. for providing imagery used on this web site.

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