Researchers have been monitoring a growing split in Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf for several months, but recent changes indicate that part of the shelf may soon break away entirely.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf
Over the past six days, the split has grown 11 miles — moving the rift a mere 8 miles away from the edge of the ice.
Aside from the size of the split, scientists also warn that the change in direction indicates that it is close to breaking away from the ice shelf.
"The rift tip appears also to have turned significantly toward the ice front, indicating that the time of calving is probably very close," says Adrian Luckman, lead researcher at Project MIDAS.
Luckman believes that there's very little that can be done to prevent the ice from splitting away. He further warned that this event could change the geography of the continent and even lead to the eventual disintegration of the Larsen C Ice Shelf.
When the ice shelf's neighbor, Larsen B, underwent a similar split, the event heralded the eventual breakup of the ice shelf as it splintered into millions of pieces.
"When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," said Luckman.
When it splits, the iceberg that results from the splintering of the Larsen C Ice Shelf will be one of the largest ever recorded. It is estimated that the newly created iceberg will be 1,930 miles long.
Why Is Larsen C Splintering
Calving does occur naturally, but researchers believe that climate change is accelerating the process. As temperatures rise, some of the surface ice melts away making it harder to maintain the integrity of the shelf. In addition to the added water, the shelves themselves are thinning as the Arctic's temperatures increase.
Taken together, these factors mean that not only are the splits becoming more frequent, but it is also less likely that new ice will form to fill in the gaps left by that which has melted.
Beyond the present danger, scientists warn that — unless the issue of climate change is addressed — we could see the breakup of larger ice shelves, which could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region and possibly the world. Ultimately, the changes in rising sea levels could affect millions of people.
Eric Brackett Tech Times editor Eric Brackett is a tech junkie and a gamer, covering science and technology. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for updates and his random thoughts on the latest trends in gaming, tech, and comic books.