Antarctic Ice Shelf Continues to Crack

The Larsen C ice shelf became the subject of several news articles as a rapidly advancing crack in the shelf has grown 20 miles since December and is dangerously close to creating a massive iceberg the size of Rhode Island.  The crack itself is about 110 miles long and over 1,500 feet wide, and the crack has been growing since 2011.  At this point, the iceberg is most likely to break free within the next few months as the overwhelming weight of the crack puts greater pressure on the 12 miles of the crack that still remains connected to the shelf.  Once the ice shelf breaks at the crack, Larsen C will be at its smallest size ever recorded.

As the iceberg is set to break off within the next few months, many experts have given their thoughts on the environmental ramifications of the Larsen C shelf crack.  Although this collapse of the Larsen C ice shelf may not sharply affect the global sea level, greater effects will be observed should other vulnerable ice shelves in Antarctica.  Likewise, the glaciers behind the ice shelf would also be threatened.  According to NASA senior scientist Eric J. Ragnot, the disintegration of the ice shelf would remove the buttressing force on the glaciers that flow into it.  Without this natural barricade, these glaciers would likely accelerate toward the ocean and likely contribute to the Earth’s rising sea level.  However, there is evidence to suggest that the Larsen C crack was entirely caused by climate change.  Professor Andrew Luckman of Project Midas, an organization that has monitored the crack for years, believes that the crack in Larsen C has been developing since the 1960s for reasons independent of climate change.  However, it has not yet been directly proven what has caused the spurt in growth that occurred starting in 2014.  The Larsen C ice shelf crack is also similar to the break up of the Larsen B ice shelf 15 years ago.

Scientists are still split on how this ice shelf crack will impact the stability of the whole Larsen C ice shelf.  Despite the cause of the potential iceberg, this instance will continue to be monitored by scientists and journalists alike. Earth Day Network will continue to keep track of the Larsen B ice shelf crack and the consequences of this cataclysmic event for Antarctica.

Sources

http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/02/02/antarctica-larsen-c-ice-shelf-crack/97402418/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/07/science/earth/antarctic-crack.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/16/509565462/an-ice-shelf-is-cracking-in-antarctica-but-not-for-the-reason-you-think

By Patrick Kendall, Intern