The Antarctic Wilkins Ice Shelf Collapse: Media recycles photos and storylines from previous years

Those masters of disaster are at it again, and it appears our friendly scientists at that National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) help this story along each year.

Thanks to WUWT reader Ron de Haan who spotted this on:

Note the dates for these two stories are a year apart, but use the same photo.

click for a full sized image

click for a full sized image

It seems that not only is the photography recycled, so is the storyline. It seems to happen every year, about this time. Note the photos show shear failure and cracks, not melted ice. Shear failure is mostly mechanical-stress related, though ice does tend to be more brittle at colder temperatures.

National Geographic reported this story headline last year, March 25th 2008

PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Giant Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapses


click for a larger image

Don’t let the date in the upper right fool you, thats just an automatic “today’s date” javascript element found in many webpages.

From the Nat Geo story:

“[It’s] an event we don’t get to see very often,” Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, said in a press statement.

Now, how is it that an ice shelf breaks up in the spring of 2008 and again in the spring of 2009 and it’s “not very often”? Hmmm.

It seems NSIDC’s Ted Scambos gets around.  Doing a Google search for

Wilkins ice shelf + “Ted Scambos”

yields about 4,930 results. Yep, he sure gets the word out every year.

Ted Scambos said something similar in 1999:

“On the southwest side of the peninsula, the Wilkins ice shelf retreated nearly 1,100 square kilometers in early March of last year [1998], said Scambos. … Within a few years, much of the Wilkins ice shelf will likely be gone” [].

But, as can be seen from the following January 1996 and March 2008 images, there has been hardly any change in a decade. Look at the photos below from the appinsys web site:


But wait, there’s more examples of that “not very often” Wilkins ice shelf breakup, again from the appinsys web site:

As the following historical satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf show, the disintegration / re-growth is an annual event (winter ice re-growth season; summer melt season).

Wilkins Ice Shelf Dec 1993

Wilkins Ice Shelf Dec 1993

Wilkins disintegration in Feb 1994

Wilkins disintegration in Feb 1994

Wilkins in Oct 2003, on the mend

Wilkins in Oct 2003, on the mend

Wilkins in Mar 2004 - breaking up again

Wilkins in Mar 2004 - breaking up again

Wilkins in Nov 2008 - icing up

Wilkins in Nov 2008 - icing up

Wilkins in Feb 2009 - uh oh!

Wilkins in Feb 2009 - uh oh!

But we just know warming is involved, NSIDC says so:

The MSNBC 2008 article reports on a NSIDC article which states:

“NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos, who first spotted the disintegration in March, said, “We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up.”

The closest station to the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the NOAA Global Historical Climate Network database is Rothera Point. The following figure shows the historical data for Rothera Point, with monthly temperatures in blue and the annual January temperature in red. Summer (Dec – Mar) temperatures have not increased – the 2000s January temperatures are similar to the 1940s (the oldest data available). So why does NSIDC’s Scambos blame it on air temperatures?


The appinsys article goes on to talk about ocean currents and sea surface temperatures being a contributor, and it is worth the read. See it here.

The real question is, how often are we going to see the Wilkins Ice Shelf be a lead news story as poster child for “global warming” to illustrate ice loss in Antarctica that is actually growing.

I guess as long as we have NSIDC’s Ted Scambos to help the media, it will be “something we get to see fairly often”.

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Eric Anderson



How many other busted stories will you need to expose until they catch the drift?

Excellent post, very disturbing that this type of subterfuge is appearing so frequently.
In my own line of work (Landslide/rock fall risk assessment) I find using historical photos incredibly useful in establishing process rates that help to predict failure frequency and then the need for remediation measures, monitoring, or do nothing etc. The tale from the historical series above, even on the short time scale indicates that there is nothing to worry about here!


What I find fascinating is the area to the southeast (?) in the satellite imagery, the section of the shelf that stretches between Latady Is. (the longish one in the center of the above photographs) and Alexander Is. (the land in the bottom right corner). Compare February 1994 to February 2009. It appears virtually unchanged over 15 years.


MarchH says, ” there is nothing to worry about here!”.
Sorry sir, I for one do not agree with you, because that´s just what there are. This story is not just about ice breaking up, but also, and actuallly more, about officials, representing public institutions, trying to quite deliberately to mislead the populace into believing something which is completely false and looks fabricated too indeed.
On top of that they are doing it knowing very well that they are at great risk getting caught “in the act” on the internet on sites like Wuwt. This points to a
frightening indifference and arrogance towards thruth and respect for people in general. That´s frightening!


You know, come to think about it – I kept thinking that picture looked really familiar.


The Wilkins Iceshelf is on the west side of an island, which is on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. A location that will be particularly affected by ocean and ocean current changes. And by changes in the westerly winds that blow with hurricane force most of the year.
By citing the Wilkins Iceshelf as evidence of AGW, they are highlighting the weakness of their case. Interestingly the media seems to be catching on.
From the Australia article,
Dr Allison said there was not any evidence of significant change in the mass of ice shelves in east Antarctica nor any indication that its ice cap was melting. “The only significant calvings in Antarctica have been in the west,” he said. And he cautioned that calvings of the magnitude seen recently in west Antarctica might not be unusual.
“Ice shelves in general have episodic carvings and there can be large icebergs breaking off – I’m talking 100km or 200km long – every 10 or 20 or 50 years.”

A point I have made repeatedly. Icesheets will break up irrespective of whether the climate is warming or cooling. This is because glaciers transport ice from where it doesn’t melt to where it does melt. This is true even in the depths of an ice age.
Only longer term (100 years or more) data will tell us whether the trend of breakup is increasing, but we don’t have that data.


Hmmm. Hey Phil.

Dave Wendt

Why do these supposed scientists find it so hard to grasp the concept that the Arctic and Antarctic have been losing and recreating most of their sea ice each and every year for far longer than any of us have been alive. Mostly due to ocean currents, tides, and gyres breaking it up and flushing it to warmer waters, since polar atmospheres seldom get warm enough to materially affect the cycle. Your previous post on the rebound of Antarctic ice clearly shows that the melt cycle is over, so the chance of the broken Wilkins Shelf drifting away before it once again refreezes is slim.
As an aside, is CT still using data from that faulty satellite? I looked at their 30 day Antarctic animation and it seems to have some suspiciously jumpy areas of open water.


In the Oct 2003 picture you can clearly see the edge of the icesheet running from the upper island down along the northern end of the lower island. In the Feb 2009 picture there has been break up at the northwestern edge, but none further south and east.
In the January 1996 picture there is large scale break up of the ice sheet at its northern edge, at least 50 kilometers in depth. None of the later pictures show additional break up in the north.
From these pictures it’s clear most break up (around 90%) occured pre-1996.
One could conclude that in recent years we have seen a dramatic reduction in ice break up on the Wilkins Iceshelf. But a couple of decades is far too short a timeframe to establish a break up trend in these very large Antarctic glacier/icesheets.

Leon Brozyna

Another ‘gotcha’ moment brought to you by WUWT.
The -fill in the blank- ice shelf collapses {or is in danger of collapsing} * * *
* * * again and again and again…

John F. Hultquist

I’m intrigued by the words chosen to describe what appear to me to be somewhat infrequent but naturally recurring events. In Antarctica the word of choice is “collapse” and in the Arctic it is “ice free.”
I’m not real sure what either term means. Take “collapse.” So a piece of floating ice cracks and floats around for awhile and may or may not slip away eventually from Antarctica but seems just or more likely to stay in place, re-attach, and break away again. Yet each time it “collapses” it is a catastrophic event. Yet the total ice mass there seems to be growing if the photos of ice and snow buried weather stations and industrial size cranes are to be believed. These collapses seem no more a catastrophe than broken ice flushing out of the Arctic Ocean in whole (“ice free”) or in part (subs can surface at the NP and ice breakers can navigate around big ice or through thin ice). This is a game of words. There is no problem.
Nice work on this – the one photo – two years – same story is hilarious.

nothingtocareabout (23:34:19) :
point taken…note that I am also concerned about the way this is being handled by the media.


NSIDC Ted Scambos at the helm
Sinking ship on ice


Oh, I messed up- supposed to be haiku!


Fox news has a slightly different take. Is Wilkins on the Left (wing) side of Antarctica, and all the rest of the Right?
Report: Antarctic Ice Growing, Not Shrinking,2933,517035,00.html


It would only stand to reason a person named “Scam”bos would perpetuate such a scam.
Ron, Anthony, Steven and the reast of you bird dogs sure hunt up some good ones. Thanks

john k

I am not a scientist , just a menial taxpayer.It seems to me that as the ice builds up, it gets heavier and when the layer of ice gets heavier than its strength can carry it will break and settle.

Alan the Brit

It breaks up, then it reforms, then it breaks up, then it reforms, then it breaks up, etc, etc. Sounds like a cyclical motion to me! As a structural engineer I see this frequently in old buildings & houses, summer time the cracks open up as the moisture content of a soil reduces & the strucutre settles, & they seal themselves up again in the winter when the subsoil moisture content replenishes & the ground heaves the strucutre back up again. If it happens in building structures through natural variations in local conditions, it can happen in natural structures such as ice sheets without the need for calamity. Talking of cracks BTW, not sure if I saw correctly but it looked like lots of shallow radial & parallel crack marks in the top right of one of the reforming photos? Reminds me of the tide going out & then coming in again.
Why do people, & especially those who probably should know better, jump to conclusions based upon one piece of evidence, yet ignore another completely? Why does an observation that one has not noticed previously, quite possibly because such an observation was impossible, decide arbitrarily to conclude an impending disaster is around the corner, without considering the possibility that “perhaps I have only just noticed this event, perhaps it has been happening all the time & I didn’t know it until now!” Mr Scambos should try consultnig the Three Witches next time his conclusions would be just as valid.
As to comments regarding publicly employed officials deliberately or naively misleading the public by their pronouncements, it is indeed an extremely serious issue of trust, honour, & integrity in my book! I know it happens all over the world at all levels of officialdom, but on a small scale. It’s human nature, but wrong when paid by the taxpayer as a public servant. I can understand whistleblowing in the name of democracy, public interest, & hypocracy scandals (one for the politicians), but not misleading people serving a political cause however noble the sentiment!

Ed Zuiderwijk

Lies, Damn Lies, and Global Warming!


You guys should do a story on the fraudulent use of pictures by alarmists.
There’s this recycled Wilkins one, then there was that other one WUWT covered where NCDC pasted a photoshopped picture of a flooded house into what they were suggesting was a scientific document.
Here’s a story on one with photoshopped smokestacks.
Then there’s the classic. Gore’s laughable use of the polar bears on the melting ice floes picture.

There must be more.

What a coincidence! I just finished a post on the Southern Ocean SST anomalies, ERSST.v3b version.
The last graph covers the grid of 80S-65S, 80W-60W, which surrounds the Wilkins Ice Shelf.
SST anomalies there have been dropping since the 1990s. The trend of the data since 1854 is negative. And the SST anomalies were higher in the 1880s than they were the 1990s.
That post, Figure 5, also shows that ~80% of the Southern Ocean had a long slow decrease and increase in SST anomalies. Is that a cycle with a frequency of about 100 years or simply a dip and rebound?


Also note the very large area of break up in the Dec 1993 picture south of Latady Island. Later pictures show no significant break up in this area.
Good analysis at this link.


CT is definitely a AGW site just look at the article they posted in reply to Will’s article in the Daily Tech (its still there despite recent global ice being totally unchanged and recently SH climbing way above anomaly + NH also about to reach “normal” proving Will’s article 100% correct).
On the other hand, they have NOT manipulated the data (re global ice), so they have maintained some sense of dignity. Beware of “software glitches” to bring the ice down though…. as shown by previously LOL
I would nor read ANYTHING into these ice changes (up or down) in the context of “climate”

Neil Jones

A little O/T
It is interesting that they are moving the goal posts from Sea Ice area or extent to VOLUME.


Greenpeace, Al Gore and David Suzuki become increasingly shrill
More comments about Wilkins shelf from New Zealand, courtesy of CFP.

Ron de Haan

The Wilkinson Ice Shelf, nothing more but an over sized ice cube machine.

Ron de Haan

OT, Huge CME produced by the sun

Re: Wilkins Ice Sheet
The following is an extract from a post on the John Daly site (dated Feb 3 2000). The post was submitted by Chick Keller who, in 2006, was described (by Roger Pielke) as a “a retired Los Alamos lab climate modeler”.
Antarctica — Ice shelf breakup. After 400 years of relative stability, nearly 1,150 square miles of the Larson B and Wilkins ice shelves collapsed between March 1998 and March 1999.
Anyone got anything earlier than March 1999 for the Wilkins collapse? If not I claim the prize!


SST anomalies there have been dropping since the 1990s. The trend of the data since 1854 is negative. And the SST anomalies were higher in the 1880s than they were the 1990s.
Bob Tisdale, had you asked me the cause of the Wilkins Icesheet break up, I would have answered the warming since the LIA.
Now, having seen your graphs, I’m not so sure.
My alternate explanation would be increased wind stresses on the ice. Winds in this area below almost continously at hurricane force. Wind blowing over large areas of ice create huge forces.
Then there is a recently (5 years ago) discovered warm ocean current that flows along and in all likelyhood under the Wilkins Icesheet.
The link below says the warm current results from freshwater runoff further north on the Peninsula. Which suggests it varies as a result of local weather conditions.
The Wilkins Icesheet is the large blue area in the lower part of the map.

ken nielsen

Some years ago there was a position paper on the BAS website about warming in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula. It noted that there was significant warming there – 3% is my recollection – but this did not fit any of the models so was believed to be due to other factors: that, for example the Peninsula was at the junction of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
This paper is no longer on the BAS site. Does anyone know what has happened to it? Is it now believed that the greater than expected warming on the Peninsula is now reconcilable with AGW?

Louis Hissink

ken nielson,
Welcome to the world of autonomous auditing of government science.


As previously reported, there are active volcanos under the continent as well…

Mike Bryant

Do we know the names of every person at NSIDC and any other politicized agencies who might have sent out similar well-timed, recurring, alarmist screeds to compliant reporters? With a list of these names, a couple of weeks, and google news, I have a feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Mike Bryant

NO amount of logic, no amount of reason, no amount of fact is going to keep government from it’s chosen course. Tax increases and rationing energy. It has been ordained.
Pay more in taxes to the government, so government scientists can pretend to control the weather. Exposing their methods is just going to make them angry.
Real science should shun the whole affair, for it is they who are being taken done with the hoax.


Sometimes the answer is the the most obvious. If one looks at cryoshpere web page and antartica you will see at this time of year all of the continent protected by sea ice except the side of the penninsula where this Wilkens ice shelf is. It seems obvious that ocean exposure ( ice erosion) has alot to do with this side of the penninsula breaking up. notice on the other side of the pennisula the coast line is nice and smooth and no breaking up reported compared to jagged edge coastline on the wilkens side

Bill Yarber

This is the email I just sent to the NSICD about their recent Wilkins Ice Sheet press release:
Please inform Dr Ted Scambos that he needs a memory check, since it is obvious from photos dating back as far as 1996 that the Wilkins Ice Sheet breaks up every SH summer (Jan-Mar) and reforms during every SH winter (Jul-Sept). Dr Scambos was recently quoted as saying:
From the Nat Geo story: “[It’s] an event we don’t get to see very often,” Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, said in a press statement.
SInce this is an annual event, and one year in galactic time is minute, it is a very frequent event and does not deserve the hysterical hype given to it each year by Dr Scambos and the NSIDC. Your credibility is greatly diminished!
I expect a full accounting by Dr Scambos and the NSIDC of this hypocritical and unethical behavior. Please review the following comment on
And respond with a public appology!
Shame on all of you!
William H Yarber II
We need to bombard them, and the media about this fabrication.

Oh dear, sounds like it’s time for another Walt Meier guest post!
Maybe you could just recycle the last one….


The real shame here is that so many of our political masters continue to play the game. Why do they need to maufacture stories and drama? What is the endgame? Is it to raise taxes? Surely it is not about further destroying our economies. If AGW or as it is more popularly known now as climate change is actually occuring why do they need to lie? As a scientist I base my understanding on data and the data clearly does not support AGW.
The whole issue has been hijacked by carpetbaggers for financial gain and the truth will eventually win out. However I am afraid it will not before our landscapes are destroyed by useless wind turbines.
Worse than that is the damage it will do to the consevation and sustainability movement when people find out they have been conned.

Ron de Haan (03:54:10) :
> OT, Huge CME produced by the sun
They say merely:

EXPLOSION ON THE SUN: A billion-ton cloud of hot magnetized gas has just left the sun. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded the explosion at the end of the day on April 17th says “The average mass based on coronagraph images is 1.6 × 10^15 g.”
A tonne is 10^6 g, a billion is 10^9, so the size of this this CME is only 60% of an average CME. Please don’t exaggerate, especially not on a topic that is about exaggeration!


Remember Mercer’s prediction in 1978?
“One warning sign that a dangerous warming is beginning in Antarctica, will be a breakup of ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula just south of the January 0C isotherm; the ice shelf in the Prince Gustav Channel, and the Wordie Ice Shelf; the ice shelf in George VI Sound, and the ice shelf in Wilkins Sound.”
Mercer, Nature, 1978, v271 pp.321-325
Of course, the fact that all these shelves have disappeared (Wilkins being the last survivor) cannot be anything else but a pure coincidence, no? A very big superposition of coincidences? These shelves broke up in the fastest warming region of Antarctica, but surely warming has nothing to do with that?
REPLY: Meanwhile “Flanagan” while you cherry pick a tiny point on the peninsula which isn’t even in the same climatic regime (Maritime polar) as the main continent (Polar Icecap), the rest of Antarctica grows sea ice:
Antarctic Sea Ice for March

2009 5.0 million sq km 2.9 million sq km
1997 3.8 million sq km 2.2 million sq km
1980 3.5 million sq km 2.0 million sq km

This is an increase of 45% for ice concentration since 1980. Statistically significant, no?
But you’d rather believe Steig et al and his Mannomatic mathematics, now disproven.


MSNBC is probably the biggest waste of time in cable history, look at their ratings, I think the only ones who watch that network are family members of on air hosts (and I say that loosely). They probably switch to another network during the shows too.

I was curious why you and practically no one else commented on this story when first reported. Now I know, thanks for the primer on just how insidious this cabal really is.
I knew something was up, when I posted the responses–at the time 100 percent “you’re full of s***”–to the initial story.

Jack Green

These so called scientists don’t work. They put out one headline and get more money to study something and then they just plagiarize or even worse use the old data and put out a new fairytail. These guys aren’t responsible. Where does NSIDC get it’s funding? Oh NASA and NOAA and ….what a crock!

Jack Green
“briefed Al Gore” wow that’s important now isn’t it. He’s and activist with an agenda not a scientist.
Somebody needs to call their boss or somebody overthere like Walt Mier and point this out. This is getting really bad when this guy puts out something as false as this. “The documents are fake but the story is true”. Dan Rather 2004.

Dill Weed

[snip – tasteless, pointless]

L Nettles

I was wondering why an ice shelf would collapse when the oceans are rising.

Well spotted Ron!
What is quite funny is that if you go the guardian’s page
(in fact it’s their sister paper the observer because it came out on Sunday April 5)
there is a section at the bottom called ‘related information’ (presumably generated automatically) that even shows the exactly same picture with the date 26 March 2008! ! 🙂
Well, the guardian is keen on recycling so I suppose it makes sense to recycle their news stories and pictures also.

Peter Plail

Why are people who accept the actual measurements of global temperature (Hadley,NCDC,RSS and UAH which all show global cooling) refered to as sceptics whereas those who derive their world view from computer models consider themselves realists?

Ron de Haan (03:20:25) :
“The Wilkinson Ice Shelf, nothing more but an over sized ice cube machine.”
Good image!. Really, as you know, the Antarctic peninsula is where the Pacific´s warm pool water go down to refresh and go upwards along the south west american coast as the then cold Humboldt´s current. So, as you say, that “over sized cube machine” is working just fine.