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Rift in Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf

submitted by Albert Gomez

           

On Nov. 10, 2016, scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission photographed an oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf. Icebridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, completed an eighth consecutive Antarctic deployment on Nov. 18.

nasa.gov - December 1, 2016 - Editor: Sarah Loff

Ice shelves are the floating parts of ice streams and glaciers, and they buttress the grounded ice behind them; when ice shelves collapse, the ice behind accelerates toward the ocean, where it then adds to sea level rise. Larsen C neighbors a smaller ice shelf that disintegrated in 2002 after developing a rift similar to the one now growing in Larsen C.

The IceBridge scientists measured the Larsen C fracture to be about 70 miles long, more than 300 feet wide and about a third of a mile deep. The crack completely cuts through the ice shelf but it does not go all the way across it – once it does, it will produce an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware.

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washingtonpost.com - by Chris Mooney - August 22, 2016

 . . . When ice shelves lose large chunks, it does not raise sea level because these bodies are already afloat. However, the loss of an ice shelf can speed up the seaward flow of the non-floating glacial ice behind it, and this ice can in turn contribute to sea-level rise. Researchers have estimated that the loss of all the ice that the Larsen C ice shelf currently holds back would raise global sea levels by 10 centimeters, or just under 4 inches.

Granted, there is at least an argument to be made that even a large loss of ice from Larsen C would not be immediately bad news for the global sea level. A study earlier this year in Nature Climate Change looked at ice shelves around Antarctica to determine how much area they could lose without ceasing to form their crucial function of buttressing glaciers and holding them back, and found that Larsen C actually has a lot of “passive” ice that it can lose without major consequences.

The MIDAS researchers, though, think the consequences could be considerably more severe.  If the crack continues on its current pace, we may soon learn who is correct.

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reuters.com - by Nina Chestney - July 12, 2017

One of the biggest icebergs on record has broken away from Antarctica, scientists said on Wednesday, creating an extra hazard for ships around the continent as it breaks up.

The one trillion tonne iceberg, measuring 5,800 square km, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12, said scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey.

The iceberg has been close to breaking off for a few months. Throughout the Antarctic winter, scientists monitored the progress of the rift in the ice shelf using the European Space Agency satellites.

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