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9 January 2017

Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf Set to Shed 5,000 km² Iceberg, Mass Destabilisation Could Follow

Any idiot can see that Antarctica is not in a good way. Glacial melt and weakening ice shelves continue to pose a threat to local wildlife, and to the continent itself, as more and more of our southern pole is rendered ice-free each year. Now, following news of the expansion of a massive chasm cutting across the Brunt ice shelf, which is forcing the relocation of the entire Halley VI British Antarctic Research Station, another major break is on the way.

Img source: Project Midas
The area of concern this time is the Larsen C ice shelf in northwest Antarctica, stretching along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula into the Weddell Sea. For over a decade now, a rift has been steadily spreading across the ice shelf; following a recent expansion of the rift, only 20km of ice now connects an iceberg with an area equivalent to Trinidad and Tobago the rest of the shelf.

Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, who heads up the UK’s Project Midas, said in a recent statement, “After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.”

Img source: Project Midas
He added that the separation of such a large iceberg “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula”, potentially triggering a much larger breakup across the entirety of the Larsen C ice shelf. He told the BBC that he would be surprised if the iceberg remained attached for longer than a few more months.

Speaking of the potential for a larger breakup following the detachment of the iceberg, Luckman’s colleague at Swansea University, Martin O’Leary, stated that, “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.”

The Project Midas website is no more encouraging, with their statement reading as follows:

“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.” 

Of course a lot of this is based off of predictions; there is no doubt that the iceberg, which as Luckman says is around one quarter the size of Wales, will break off, there is however much more debate concerning the wider effects of this event. One thing is for sure though: if the likes of Luckman and O’Leary are proven correct, then there are dark times ahead for Antarctica.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.