An enormous iceberg — comprising more than 5,000 square kilometers of mass — is now on the verge of breaking off from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, following the rapid expansion of a rift there last month.
The picture below probably explains the situation more clearly than words ever will, but I’ll note here that the part that’s holding the iceberg to the ice shelf is now only around 20 kilometers in length.
Once the iceberg breaks off from the Larsen C ice shelf (an inevitability), the event will represent one of the “largest 10 break-offs ever recorded,” according to The Guardian.
Commenting on the subject, a researcher at Swansea University (and also a leader of the UK’s Midas project), Professor Adrian Luckman, stated: “After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20 km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.”
Once the iceberg breaks free, it “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula,” and the event could well lead to the break-up of the whole Larsen C ice shelf, Luckman continued. “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.”
The Guardian continues:
“Ice shelves are vast expanses of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the edge of glaciers.
“Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will destabilise the frozen continent’s inland glaciers. And while the splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels, the loss of glacial ice would.”
“Martin O’Leary, also of Swansea University, said: ‘It just makes the whole shelf less stable. If it were to collapse there would be nothing holding the glaciers up and they would start to flow quite quickly indeed.’
“O’Leary added that while calving is a natural process that happens every decade or so and is not driven by climate change, the disintegration of a major shelf could accelerate the melting of glacial ice linked to warming oceans.”
As a reminder, the “nearby” Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated completely back in 2002 following a similar event. Also, recent research has found that the ice shelfs of East Antarctica are much less stable than previously thought, and could collapse rapidly in coming decades.