London, May 24 : Research during an expedition by the Canadian military has found dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice cap, in the form of vast cracks.
According to a report by BBC News, scientists traveling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada's far north.
The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area's largest shelf.
"I was astonished to see these new cracks," said Derek Muelle, one of the expedition's scientists. "It means the ice shelf is disintegrating, the pieces are pinned together like a jigsaw but could float away," he added.
According to another scientist on the expedition, Dr Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa, the new cracks fit into a pattern of change in the Arctic.
"We're seeing very dramatic changes; from the retreat of the glaciers, to the melting of the sea ice," said Copland. "We had 23% less (sea ice) last year than we've ever had, and what's happening to the ice shelves is part of that picture," he added.
When ice shelves break apart, they drift offshore into the ocean as "ice islands", transforming the very geography of the coastline.
After the record Arctic melting last year, all eyes are now on what happens to the sea ice this summer.
Although its maximum extent last winter was slightly greater than the year before, it was still below the long-term average.