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Delaware-Sized Iceberg Very Close To Splitting From Antarctic Shelf: What Danger Does This Pose?

2 June 2017, 11:32 am EDT By Luan Chan Tech Times
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The rift in Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf cracked another 17 km (11 miles) between May 25 and 31, leaving only 13 km (8 miles) of ice from the ice front and threatening to calve at least 10 percent of its area when it eventually breaks off.

Scientists studying the huge glacier estimate that the calving could occur anytime, even in the next day or two, if conditions align. What is for certain is that there is no way of stopping the huge mass of ice from breaking off.

"When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area ... this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," the Project MIDAS website explains.

Project MIDAS is a UK-based Antarctic project focused on studying the effects of climate change on the Larsen C ice shelf in West Antarctica.

Larsen C Will Become Unstable And Could Collapse

Some scientists believe that there is nothing to worry about with the Larsen C's eventual calving since it is a natural process, and new ice would replace what was lost from the calving process. Other scientists, however, predict that the shelf's collapse could be the precursor to more natural but probably unstoppable climate-related events.

"We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B," Adrian Luckman, Swansea professor of glaciology and principal investigator for Project MIDAS writes.

A Domino Effect Of Climate Change

What makes the impending calving crucial is that the huge icy mass is set to break off at Larsen C's pinning points — or the points where land and ice meet. Once the massive iceberg breaks off from Larsen C, the ice previously "protected" would be exposed and would surge to the ocean, causing it to become thinner. This, in turn, would create a domino effect of smaller but still landscape-reshaping series of calvings. What makes it worse is that Larsen C is five times bigger than Larsen B, which means it could cause significant impact if it were to share the latter's fate.

Poul Christoffersen from University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute expressed his concern over the possibility that a similar event could happen to the Ross ice shelf.

"The ice shelves that are collapsing are getting bigger and bigger," Christoffersen said.

While the rise in sea levels would only be a few millimeters when the Delaware-sized chunk of Larsen C breaks off, continuous calving or a sudden collapse could affect and endanger the ecosystem.

Scientist Ted Scambos from the University of Colorado believes that the calving event is a message that something has changed in the environment and that it is not a good kind of change. Christoffersen shares this opinion and says that it is important to curb carbon dioxide emissions in order to prevent massive calving on the other shelves — a mission that the Trump administration has withdrawn from.

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