Rapid growth in Larsen C ice shelf's huge crack may soon destabilise Antarctic's largest structure

Scientists have discovered a significant growth in an already huge crack on the Larsen C ice shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

FP Staff August 24, 2016 18:36:24 IST
Rapid growth in Larsen C ice shelf's huge crack may soon destabilise Antarctic's largest structure

The melting ice sheet in Greenland and the Arctic due to global warming is a now common knowledge. In what can be seen as more scary information on the climate change front, scientists have discovered a significant growth in an already huge crack on the Larsen C ice shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

The study was published by the scientists at Project MIDAS – a UK-based Antarctic research project working on the effects of the warming of the climate on the Larsen C ice shelf in the continent for the past two years.

According to the project findings, this crack may threaten the stability of Larsen C – the largest ice shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula region – and has grown significantly and rapidly during the Antarctic polar night. As of August 2016, the crack has now grown 22-kilometres longer than when satellites were last able to observe it in March this year.

However, in 2015, a study published in the journal Cryosphere had predicted the calving event as the largest since the 1980s.

The study read:

An established rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, formerly constrained by a suture zone containing marine ice, grew rapidly during 2014 and is likely in the near future to generate the largest calving event since the 1980s and result in a new minimum area for the ice shelf.

It seems inevitable that this rift will lead to a major calving event which will remove between 9 and 12 percent of the ice shelf area and leave the ice front at its most retreated observed position.

Nasa had published a study in May last year explaining how Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf is suffering the same fate and is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs before the end of the decade.

Rapid growth in Larsen C ice shelfs huge crack may soon destabilise Antarctics largest structure

The satellite image captured by Nasa before the collapse of Larsen-B Ice Shelf. (Photo: Nasa)

Rapid growth in Larsen C ice shelfs huge crack may soon destabilise Antarctics largest structure

Satellite image of the Larsen B ice shelf after it collapsed, on 31 January, 2002. (Photo: Nasa)

According to the study, the last remaining section of Larsen B ice shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is flowing faster, becoming increasingly fragmented and developing large cracks. Two of its tributary glaciers also are flowing faster and thinning rapidly.

Terming it as a bad news for our planet, Ala Khazendar of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying:

"Although it's scientifically fascinating to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it's bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone."

The Guardian had quoted Paul Holland, a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), as saying that the loss of the ice shelves would speed the complete collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet. It would eventually cause the sea level to rise up to 3.5m. However, the scientist said that it was highly unlikely that the event would occur in this century.

What is an ice shelf and will happen if it melts?

An ice shelf is a floating sheet of ice permanently attached to a land mass. According to a study published the journal Science in 2015, the floating ice shelves around Antarctica are thinning at faster rates. "It buttresses ice streams from the continent and slows their discharge into the sea. With no ice shelves, glacial ice would to collapse and melt into the ocean faster and accelerate the pace of global sea level rise," says the study.

 

Here is a visual representation of the data, from nearly two decades of satellite missions, that show how the ice volume decline is accelerating.

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