A large rift is forming on the Antarctic Peninsula’s most northern ice shelf, threatening to break off an iceberg the size of Delaware. The crack is spreading quickly, meaning the collapse could take place very soon. If the huge chunk breaks off, it could destabilize the shelf and go down in history as the third largest ice calving event ever recorded.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf is at risk of losing 10 to 12 percent of its mass, and soon. Scientists from Project MIDAS have been following the initial rupture since 2011 and say the crack has expanded 22 kilometers, or 14 miles, between March and August of this year. The entire Antarctic Peninsula has been warming rapidly over the years, leading to devastating consequences for wildlife and the destabilization of remaining shelves. When this particular iceberg breaks free, sea levels would not be affected, however, since the ice is already floating in the ocean.
Martin O’Leary, one of MIDAS’ researchers, told Mashable, “The ice shelf loses icebergs like this naturally every few decades, but we’re concerned that this one might extend far enough back that it breaks the ‘compressive arch’ which is holding the ice shelf in place.” The Larsen C Shelf had a large chunk of ice break free in 1988, yet it was jutting quite far into the ocean. This predicted ice calving event would eat right into the main shelf, leaving the rest of the area vulnerable to new calving events.
The Larsen B Ice Shelf captivated the world when it experienced a similar event in 2002. In fact, scientists are feeling a bit of déjà vu as they observe what is happening with Larsen C. Additionally, “meltponds” forming on the surface may be quickening the demise of the shelf, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The fate of Larsen C seems to be hanging in the balance, an event to which we will all have a front row seat.