How Crack On Antarctic Ice Shelf Has Grown Over The Years

Posted: Apr 15 2017, 8:40am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 15 2017, 8:42am CDT , in Latest Science News


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How Crack on Antarctic Ice Berg has Changed Over the Years
Credit: NASA

Images from NASA’s Terra satellite show that the crack is spreading rapidly through the Larsen C ice shelf. Now, only 10 miles of ice seperate it from the open sea

In 2014, a crack opened up in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. Three years later, the rift has spread through the ice shelf and now just 10 miles of ice is keeping the entire ice shelf intact. Once the rift goes all the way across, it will produce an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware.

Although it’s not the first time the Antarctic is on the verge of losing a giant iceberg in this way, researchers suggest that Larsen C collapse will significantly change the landscape of the continent. It will allow the glacial ice to enter the ocean faster and accelerate the pace of sea level rise.

Everyone wants to know when the part of Larsen C will finally break away. Researchers say no one can predict the exact time. Ice fracturing depends on a large number of factors, many of which are poorly understood. So, it could take days to years.

Larsen C is the fourth major ice shelf in Antarctic peninsula that is about 350m thick and floats at the edge of West Antarctica. Researchers have been tracking the rift in Larsen C for many years through airborne surveys. Satellite imagery taken by Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite also show how the rift on Larsen C has grown over the years. The rift was about 130 kilometers long when images were taken on August 22, 2016. On December 8, 2016, the rift further stretched 145 kilometers while it grew 180 kilometers until April 6, 2017. The crack is completely cutting through the ice shelf but is still not wide enough to dislodge the iceberg.

Cracks and calving of ice from the front of ice shelf is a normal part of a glacial cycle. Larsen C’s neighboring ice shelves Larsen A and B also collapsed and disintegrated in 1995 and 2002 respectively.

Larsen B calving was caused by the similar rift that is now growing on Larsen C. So, it seems like this ice shelf is also on a similar trajectory with an iceberg poised to break away soon. But because Larsen C is 10 times bigger than its nearby ice shelf, it is expected to have more devastating impact on Earth’s ecological balance.

“What we are seeing on Larsen C has implications for the big ice shelves farther south that hold considerable (sea level potential),” said Eric Rignot. “The loss of these larger ice shelves and resulting acceleration of glacial calving could amount to meters of sea level rise in decades and centuries to come.”

There is also a chance that Larsen C will remain stable and regrow after the iceberg breaks away.

To assess its potential impact on ice shelf, researchers will continue to monitor the development of crack on iceberg.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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