Crack In Larsen C Ice Shelf In Antarctica Set To Produce One Of The Largest Icebergs When It Breaks Off


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.

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