NASA Image Reveals A Massive Rift In Antarctic Ice Shelf

Posted: Dec 5 2016, 5:29am CST | by , Updated: Dec 5 2016, 5:43am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Image Reveals a 300-Foot-Wide Rift in Antarctic Ice Shelf
Credit: NASA
 

If this 300-foot-wide crack cuts through the ice shelf completely, it will produce an iceberg roughly the size of state of Delaware

IceBridge mission is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice that is capturing high resolution images of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice for more than five years. It has also been tracking the progression of a huge rift in one of Antarctica’s biggest ice shelves known as Larsen C. 

On Friday, the mission flying above the Antarctic Peninsula has released a startling view of the massive rift on the ice shelf. Alarmingly, the rift is continued to get bigger and bigger over time.

The IceBridge mission scientists estimate that the Larsen C fracture is currently about 70 miles long and over 300 feet wide. The ice shelf is still fully intact despite the presence of this massive crack. But if this crack cuts through the ice shelf all the way across, it could produce an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware.

Ice shelves are floating sheets of ice that protect glaciers from sliding down toward the ocean. Without them, glaciers will enter the ocean faster and accelerate the pace of sea level rise.

Larsen C has developed similar kind of rift that had caused the disintegration of a nearby small ice shelf in 2002. Researchers suspect that Larsen C ice shelf could also meet the same fate.

“It’s a large rift on an ice shelf whose future we are curious about. Inevitably, when you see it in satellite imagery or from a plane, you wonder what is going to happen when it breaks off. The growth of this rift likely indicates that the portion of the ice shelf downstream of the rift is no longer holding back any grounded ice.” Joe MacGregor, a scientist involved in IceBridge mission said a statement earlier this year.

IceBridge mission has carried out 24 flights over Antarctica with a total of 308 hours airborne till its eight consecutive Antarctic deployment on November 18. The data collected by the mission will help scientists bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). The original ICESat mission was ended in 2009 while its successor is scheduled for launch in 2018.

Started in 2009, Operation IceBridge is expected to last 2019 and continue monitoring the changing features of Antarctic ice.

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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