The Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica is scarily close to experiencing one of the biggest rifts in history. Scientists have been monitoring the situation closely and fear that a Delaware-sized iceberg is mere months away from breaking off of the ice shelf and causing permanent damage.
What’s Happening with the Rift?
The British Antarctic Survey and Project Midas have recently released aerial footage that shows us just how bad the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf has become. The crack now runs for 1500 feet. Once the crack reaches the end of the ice shelf, an area of over 2000 square miles is predicted to break off from the rest of the shelf.
In December, the rift grew by 10 miles and in January, it advanced by an additional six miles. Unfortunately, the rift only needs to grow by 12 more miles before it breaks off completely. Scientists and researchers predict that this final break will happen within a matter of months. Once it breaks, the 2000 square mile piece of the ice shelf will be amongst the ten largest icebergs of all time.
What Does That Mean for the Ice Shelf?
Calving, when ice chunks break off a glacier, is a natural occurrence and something that happens often with glaciers and ice shelves. However, the ice chunks that fall into the ocean are generally no larger than 60 square feet and fall off as a result of glacier growth. Calving like the type we are seeing on the Larsen C ice shelf is not usual and is definitely cause for concern.
Once the rift meets the edge of the shelf and the iceberg breaks off, the Larsen C ice shelf will be at its most retreated position ever. Scientists hope that Larsen C will be able to recover from the calving and regrow the ice. However, there is a chance that the ice shelf will be unstable and unable to recover. Larsen C’s siblings, ice shelves Larsen A and Larsen B, both calved in 1995 and 2002. Neither were able to recover from the extreme calving and the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves disintegrated. Scientists fear Larsen C is headed down the same path.
What Are the Consequences of a Rift This Big?
Phenomenons at the poles have always had drastic effects on all areas of the world. A retreating and disintegrating ice shelf in Antarctica will be no different. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey ice and ocean modeler, explained the danger, “The stability of ice shelves is important because they resist the flow of the grounded ice inland.” Holland went on to describe the effects of the Larsen B ice shelf disintegration. The tributary glaciers of Larsen B, the smaller glaciers that flowed into the ice shelf, began to melt at an accelerated rate. This led to rising sea levels around the world. Scientists can now only cross their fingers that the same doesn’t happen to Larsen C.