The expanding massive crack in an Antarctic ice shelf is getting so dire that experts think it’s only a matter of time before it collapses, just like what happened to the smaller shelf back in 2002. Now it’s predicted to produce one of the biggest-ever icebergs ever recorded once it breaks off.
The Larsen C ice shelf, the largest segment of the Larsen ice shelf in northwest Antarctica, saw a worsening situation starting this January when its crack grew rapidly by 6 miles mid-month. The crack, according to experts, has been adding space that equals five football fields every day.
Massive Iceberg Watch
Larsen C is feared to eventually result in a huge chunk calving and falling into the Wendell Sea. Radar images from April 7 and 14 were combined to create an interferogram, or a partial picture of the growing crack, and revealed to European Space Agency scientists that the crack is now nearly 110 miles long — a third of which was added this year alone.
“When the ice shelf calves this iceberg it will be one of the largest ever recorded — but exactly how long this will take is difficult to predict,” said ESA in a statement, noting that ice shelves’ sensitivity to the changing climate has already been seen on already-collapsed Larsen A and Larsen B shelves.
When ice shelves break, icebergs form and, in turn, break into smaller parts that can pose navigational dangers to ongoing marine traffic.
More importantly, however, a large ice shelf like Larsen C acts as a buttress, holding back ice that flows toward the sea. When left unchecked, this phenomenon would lead to sea level rises, the magnitude of consequences of which is still undetermined.
When Larsen B collapsed, for instance, the speed of the Crane Glacier increased threefold. Current estimates also show that if the ice Larsen C is currently holding back suddenly goes to sea, water levels around the world would rise by 4 inches.
Is It Global Warming Or The Natural Order Of Things?
Amid anxieties over the effects of global warming on polar ice, some scientists have dubbed the ice break a geographical rather than a climate situation. The rift has existed for decades and further proof that warming is causing the separation is necessary, according to them.
Martin O’Leary, researcher and member of UK-based Antarctic monitoring group Project MIDAS, has chosen to call it a “natural process” happening once every many decades. Larsen C, for one, had one such event back in the mid-1980s.
Losing a massive, state-sized ice block may leave the remaining shelf vulnerable to further climate change-related conditions and its collapse will occur earlier, O’Leary explained.
Larsen A collapsed in 1995 while Larsen B followed suit in 2002.
There is a certain agreement, however, that the split will inevitably change the Antarctic landscape, which is already undergoing precarious changes at present.
The two-satellite constellation Copernicus Sentinel-1 monitors events like these as it delivers radar images every six days, even when the continent is wrapped in darkness for several months a year.