Arctic ice island breaks in half

The giant Ayles Ice Island drifting off Canada’s northern shores has broken in two – far earlier than expected.

In a season of record summer melting in the region, the two chunks have moved rapidly through the water – one of them covering 98km (61 miles) in a week.

Their progress has been tracked amid fears they could edge west towards oil and gas installations off Alaska. The original Manhattan-sized berg (16km by five km; 10 miles by three miles) broke off the Ayles Ice Shelf in 2005.

I joined a team that landed on the ice island in May to carry out the first scientific investigation into what many see as a key indicator of global warming. It is an unsettling thought that the very ice we landed on – and filmed on – for several hours has since ripped apart.

One of the scientists on that mission was Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa, and he told BBC News that the fact that the island had headed south was significant.

“The island became more vulnerable to breaking up with the warmer temperatures in more southerly latitudes, together with having less protection from the smaller amounts of surrounding sea-ice.

“It’s relatively unusual for the ice island to drift so far south so quickly – many ice islands in the past have stayed within the Arctic Ocean, or within the northern parts of the Queen Elizabeth Islands.”