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Climate Change

Published on January 22nd, 2017 | by James Ayre

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Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf Rift Growing Rapidly, 10 Kilometers Of Growth Since January 1st

January 22nd, 2017 by  


The large rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf that we reported on a few weeks ago has continued to grow at a rapid rate since then, with a further 10 kilometers of length added since January 1st according to the researchers at the MIDAS Project.

The rift continues to run parallel to the shelf edge, though, so the distance holding the iceberg to the shelf (20 kilometers) remains the same as the last time that we reported on it. Obviously, though, as the images below show, even if the rift continues to run parallel, it will inevitability lead to an iceberg calving event.

“The current location of the rift on Larsen C, as of January 19 2017. Labels highlight significant jumps. Tip positions are derived from Landsat (USGS) and Sentinel-1 InSAR (ESA) data. Background image blends BEDMAP2 Elevation (BAS) with MODIS MOA2009 Image mosaic (NSIDC). Other data from SCAR ADD and OSM.”

This matters because, according to the researchers at the MIDAS Project, once the 5,000 sq. km iceberg calves, it will destabilize the whole Larsen C Ice Shelf — possibly leading to the disintegration of the whole ice shelf. The Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegrated in 2002 following a similar event as the one occurring now.

Here’s more, straight from the MIDAS Project:

“Imagery acquired on 19th January by ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellites shows a further 10 km of rift growth since January 1st, bringing its total length to 175 km. …

“When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event.”

While a disintegration event won’t lead immediately to major changes for those living outside of Antarctica — so could probably be dismissed by some as being unimportant — the event will serve as a major milestone in the now baked-in disintegration of Antarctica’s ice shelves, and also in the very likely baked-in melting of its ice sheets.






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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



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