Vast iceberg poised to crack off Antarctica

Darnell ReidJan 10, 2017

Even before such collapse, a Larsen A ice shelf was already cut off from this ice mass in 1995. Estimates suggest that if Larsen C, which is nearly the size of Scotland, were to completely disintegrate and no longer protect ground ice beyond from melting, sea levels could rise by 10cm.

The ice block now separating from Larsen C contains about 10 percent of its mass, and would be among the 10 largest break-offs ever recorded, Luckman said.

Researchers have been tracking the rift in Larsen C for many years. The Larsen C ice shelf is the most northern major ice shelf and the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica. Whether it's the cause of recent ice shelf collapses is yet to be determined.

"The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,000 years ago", said author Dr, Nick Golledge, a senior research fellow at the University of Victoria's Antarctic Research Centre. Unfortunately, there is not much it can be done to keep it from breaking off.

"The normal life cycle of a snowflake that falls on Antarctica is to slowly get compressed into ice, to flow down off the land into the ocean, where it eventually either melts or turns into an iceberg", explains King.

Swansea University professor and leader of the team monitoring the rift, Adrian Luckman, told BBC that if the iceberg doesn't "go in the next few months", he'll be amazed.


"There hasn't been enough cloud-free Landsat images but we've managed to combine a pair of ESA Sentinel-1 radar images to notice this extension, and it's so close to calving that I think it's inevitable".

Researchers based in Swansea say the loss of a piece a quarter of the size of Wales will leave the whole shelf vulnerable to future break-up. They are convinced that the remaining ice shelf will be less stable than the present one.

Globally, sea levels have risen about eight inches since 1901.

The researchers say that this is a geographical and not a climate event. But if the shelf breaks up even more, it could result in glaciers that flow off the land behind it to speed up their passage towards the ocean.

The real danger is from inland glaciers, held in place by the floating, cliff-like ice shelves that straddle land and sea.

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming regions on our planet-over the last half of the last century it experienced a temperature rise of 2.5°C.

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