Satellite images from 2002, left, and 2012 reveal the disintegration of the Antarctic ice shelf.

Story highlights

The Larsen B ice shelf has decreased dramatically since March 2002

The European Space Agency blames it on warmer temperatures

Another Larsen ice shelf disintegrated and a third is stable

CNN  — 

A European satellite has observed a rapid retreat of one of Antarctica’s ice shelves, which is half the size it was 10 years ago, the European Space Agency said Thursday.

The agency’s Envisat satellite shows part of the Larsen Ice Shelf, which lies on a peninsula south of Chile, has decreased from 3,463 square kilometers (1,337 square miles) in March 2002 to 1,670 square kilometers (645 square miles) today, a change the European Space Agency blames on warmer temperatures.

“Ice shelves are sensitive to atmospheric warming and to changes in ocean currents and temperatures,” Helmut Rott from the University of Innsbruck said in an statement from the space agency. “The northern Antarctic Peninsula has been subject to atmospheric warming of about 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit degrees) over the last 50 years – a much stronger warming trend than on global average, causing retreat and disintegration of ice shelves.”

The waning is happening on the Larsen B ice shelf, one of three shelves that make up the Larsen Ice Shelf.

Larsen A disintegrated in January 1995. Larsen C has so far been stable, the space agency said, though satellites have observed some recent thinning and melting.

Larsen B measured 11,512 square kilometers in January 1995. It went down to 6,664 square kilometers in February 2002 after several parts broke off, and a month later Larsen B was down to 3,463 square kilometers.

The space agency says the satellite’s observations confirm the vulnerability of the ice shelves to climatic warming.