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Climate Change

Published on February 28th, 2017 | by James Ayre


Video: Antarctica’s Cracking Larsen C Ice Shelf

February 28th, 2017 by  

As we’ve covered news of the growing crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf a number of times in recent months, it seems worth providing an update here. While the enormous (probably more than 5,000 km²) soon-to-be iceberg has yet to actually calve, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey recently captured a video of the ice shelf that’s interesting to watch.

The new footage was shot while British Antarctic Survey researchers were flying over the region on the way to collect equipment located elsewhere in Antarctica.

As we reported previously, the soon-to-occur calving of the enormous iceberg won’t lead to any major impacts itself, but it serves as a sign that the whole Larsen C Ice Shelf may collapse within the near future — as has happened to other ice shelves that have experienced large calving events like the one we are now witnessing.

This matters because, with the continent’s ice shelfs gone (or reduced in size), the ice sheets will flow into the ocean more rapidly than would otherwise be the case. As it stands, the ice shelfs function as “stoppers,” limiting the speed at which glaciers flow into the waters.

So, it’s just another sign of the way that the situation in Antarctica is changing more rapidly than perhaps most climate change models have predicted. …

Good luck getting the highly-conservative-in-their-public-statements researchers to acknowledge as much though.

An ice and ocean modeller at British Antarctic Survey by the name of Dr Paul Holland commented:

“Iceberg calving is a normal part of the glacier life cycle, and there is every chance that Larsen C will remain stable and this ice will regrow. However, it is also possible that this iceberg calving will leave Larsen C in an unstable configuration. If that happens, further iceberg calving could cause a retreat of Larsen C. We won’t be able to tell whether Larsen C is unstable until the iceberg has calved and we are able to understand the behaviour of the remaining ice.

“The stability of ice shelves is important because they resist the flow of the grounded ice inland. After the collapse of Larsen B, its tributary glaciers accelerated, contributing to sea-level rise.”

We’ll keep you posted. As a reminder, Antarctic sea ice extent apparently hit a new record low this year, and Arctic sea ice extent is looking fairly likely to set a new record low this year as well.


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About the Author

James Ayre'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.

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