A Connecticut-sized mass of Antarctica recently broke off the western edge of continent and shattered into thousands of free-floating ice chunks. As melting in the Arctic goes, the Wilkins shattering is pretty bad.

What is significant about the Wilkins breakup is that it is the first "cleavage event" at the poles that has been widely attributed to global warming in the scientific community. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the Wilkins was exposed to some of the highest temperature increases at the poles--nearly one degree Fahrenheit--over the past 50 years.

Senior Research Scientist Ted Scambos said the Wilkins collapse conforms to ocean current and atmospheric models which substantiate global warming in the Western Antarctic. In hindsight, he said, previous cleavages at the poles in recent years can likely be attributed to planetary warming.

With the Wilkins gradually chunking off into the Bellinghausen Sea, polar gawkers should be keeping a close eye on three areas in the Antarctic--Pine Island Bay, the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Fimbul Ice Shelf--for the next significant cleavage events. Like the Wilkins, all have seen significant exposure to warming ocean waters.

None of this is good news, of course. Sea level spikes from global warming are likely to be one of the most siginifcant challenges the world will face in the coming centuries. Watch for a selection of Big Think content in the coming weeks on the changing face of polar regions.