Environment

One of the largest icebergs ever recorded is about to break off in Antarctica

Image from an aerial investigation of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by NASA in December 2016
Image from an aerial investigation of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by NASA in December 2016
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When the Larsen B Ice Shelf released an iceberg in 2002 researchers tracked the movement of the resulting mass
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When the Larsen B Ice Shelf released an iceberg in 2002 researchers tracked the movement of the resulting mass
This giant crack in West Antartica threatens to release one of the largest icebergs ever recorded
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This giant crack in West Antartica threatens to release one of the largest icebergs ever recorded
The most recent cracking shows the large mass of ice about to break off in West Antartica
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The most recent cracking shows the large mass of ice about to break off in West Antartica
Image from an aerial investigation of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by NASA in December 2016
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Image from an aerial investigation of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by NASA in December 2016

Scientists observing the rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf in West Antarctica have reported dramatic cracking over the past week. The rift has grown a startling 11 miles (17 km) over the last seven days, bringing it to within eight miles (13 km) of breaking off and producing one of the largest ever recorded icebergs.

A UK-based research team called Project MIDAS has been studying the growing rift on the Larsen C Ice Shelf for several years now, but over the past few months it has recorded significant new cracking. The Larsen C Ice Shelf is set to follow its neighbors, Larsen A and B, which splintered in 1995 and 2002, respectively, but this iceberg is set to be larger than the two resulting from those two events.

Because these ice shelves are already floating on water their release will not directly contribute to a global sea level rise, but they do represent dramatic land mass shifts occurring at a rapid pace in West Antartica. The Project MIDAS researchers raise concerns over the secondary effects caused by a major event such as this.

The most recent cracking shows the large mass of ice about to break off in West Antartica
The most recent cracking shows the large mass of ice about to break off in West Antartica

"Ice shelves hold back the glaciers which feed them," the team writes on a blog that has been documenting this growing ice rift. "When they disappear, ice can flow faster from the land to the ocean and contribute more quickly to sea level rise."

Studies on the previous Larsen B Ice Shelf event in 2002 showed that the feeding glaciers accelerated their melting following the shelf break. The Larsen C Ice Shelf rift is the largest fissure observed to date in the region and highlights the overall vulnerability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

This giant crack in West Antartica threatens to release one of the largest icebergs ever recorded
This giant crack in West Antartica threatens to release one of the largest icebergs ever recorded

A report published last year by the National Snow and Ice Data Center ominously signaled the potential "catastrophic" scenario that could result if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet continued to deteriorate. It estimated a complete collapse of the region would raise the global sea level by more than 10 ft (3.3 m) in the next few decades or centuries depending on the rate of thinning.

It's yet to be seen what the overall consequences of this event will be, but the speed of the cracking is certainly unexpected, and when this massive iceberg eventually breaks off, the Larsen Ice Shelf will lose 10 percent of its total area. In the words of the Project MIDAS team, this will "fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula."

Source: Project MIDAS

15 comments
VincentWolf
It would be cool if it drifted and blocked the harbors around DC--perhaps then Trump would see the reality of global warming eh?
christopher
10ft - LOL - more like 10cm maybe, if they're lucky. Our planet is already 2/3 water, and the total above-sea ice in that little blip down the bottom, divided by all the sea surface area, results in an increase so mall is it UNMEASURABLE. This is basic junior school maths people. Why does nobody ever check any of these garbage alarmist claims?
christopher
That was not a report - it clearly states "This document is the outcome of a community science meeting held September 16-19, 2015" You can't cobble together a bunch of interested community people, and make up random numbers (their 3.3m claim, aside from being 100x larger than reality, is totally unexplained or justified anyplace in there), and take that seriously. 3.3m is not an "estimate", it's a incorrect opinion from someone at a community meeting!
AndyN33
I take it nobody actually read the article then. The 10ft (3.3m) clain is not for a single iceberg (even as big as this one is going to be), they said it is for a COMPLETE COLLAPSE OF THE AREA in the next few decades or centuries depending upon the rate of thinning.
Bob
Sometime in the next 100 years there will be a major volcanic eruption(maybe Yellowstone) that will push the climate the other way or a major earthquake with a giant tsunami that cleanses the coast lines of much of the world. At that time all man's puny efforts will come to nothing. Every time I read about global warming I am reminded "Of the best laid plans of mice and men".
Fritz
I guess the shelf is floating - right? The break away more has to do with the structural stability. Maybe also with a higher flow rate of warm water to the arctic region to cool down - this would say that the density is lower and the lifting force of the floating shelf is lower - so it sinks into the water deeper - causing the break. Glaciers in the Alps for example vanish not because the go down the slope faster - in fact they are melting faster because of global warming. This says also that a huge summer cooling source is lost and temperatures in Europe will rise mach more than in already hot regions.
piperTom
Much is made of the ice shelf "blocking" the glaciers that created it. Such blocking can never be permanent -- the ice has to go somewhere! That pressure is the force that pushed the ice shelf out until it HAD to break. So, where is all that ice coming from -- surely there's a way to spin that into a panic... because everything that happens is a cause for panic, right?
Steven Flax
How extensive is the mass of ice that will shortly fall off? How many square miles? How deep is the piece of ice that will fall off? A thousand feet? Thank you for the info (which the story should have provided).
Douglas Bennett Rogers
As the ice gets thicker, the pressure and temperature at the base of the ice increase and the ice melts and moves faster.
Kpar
So many intelligent comments, here. Kudos to Christopher, Bob, and piperTom. The Global Warm-mongers will use ANYTHING to support their grab for power over the rest of humanity.
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