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Massive Arctic Ice Shelf Breaks Off

Two chunks of ice together measuring 20sqkm have broken off an Arctic ice shelf, the biggest breakup of Arctic ice in three years, Canadian officials announced.

Two floating islands of ice formed after the chunks broke from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf off Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, officials said.

"The first broke off sometime around July 22 and the second in the night of July 23 to 24," said a senior iceberg forecaster for Environment Canada's Ice Service, Luc Desjardins.

Scientists confirmed the phenomenon in a fly-over of the first mass of ice and by analysing the satellite data.

It was the largest breakup of an ice shelf in the Arctic since the Ayles Ice Shelf broke off the Ellesmere Island coast in 2005 and formed a floating island of ice roughly the size of New York city's Manhattan.

Five vast ice shelves surround the north side of Ellesmere Island in Canada's Nunavut Territory. Ward Hunt is considered the largest, with a surface area of 443sqkm.

However, Arctic sea ice is unlikely to shrink below a 2007 record low this year in a reprieve from the worst predictions of climate change even though new evidence confirms a long-term thaw is under way, experts said.

The record raised worries of a melt that could leave the North Pole ice-free this year, threaten indigenous hunters and thaw ice vital for creatures like polar bears.

It would also help open the Arctic to shipping and oil and gas firms.

"Most likely there will not be a new record minimum ice year in the Arctic this September. Arctic ice reaches an annual summer low in September but is one million sqkm bigger than at the same time in late July 2007." said the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre in west Norway.


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