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11 July 2017

Antarctica is Disappearing Piece by Piece

Back in January, we reported on the rift developing along Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf which was speculated to separate an iceberg ¼ the size of Wales after just a few more months. It’s now been half a year since we posted about the rift, and the news is full of articles exclaiming how that same iceberg is on the verge of breaking off and causing a lot of trouble for both the continent and the rest of the world.

There is a real fear that the separation will trigger a collapse of the entire Larsen C Ice Shelf which could lead to sea levels rising by up to four inches. The increase could devastate many coastal areas with floods that would in turn harm their local economies. Even if this weren’t to happen, the separation of the iceberg is unavoidable and will cut off over 10% of the Ice Shelf’s area. As researchers have said, this would “fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula”.

Although no evidence has been collected yet that shows a direct link, it is widely believed that this rift is yet another effect of the world’s changing climate. The presence of warmer ocean and atmospheric temperatures has almost definitely played a part in the disintegration of ice shelves in the past, so there’s no reason why things would be different in this instance.

These developments in the Larsen C Ice Shelf come as the Dakshin Gangotri glacier continues to disappear as a result of climate change.

Scientists from the Geological Survey of India have been monitoring the glacier, which is also located in Antarctica, since 1983 and have discovered that the rate at which it’s melting away is growing alarmingly fast. Between 1996 and 2011, the snout of the Dakshin Gangotri glacier diminished by an area of 4800 square metres, while the western wall has receded by 21.73 metres since 2001. The decline observed at the western wall is more prominent than that of the snout due to its higher elevation which has made it more susceptible to solar radiation. It’s believed that increases in wind speed along with surface air and ground temperatures has also contributed to the loss of ice, although the lack of a perfect correlation here suggests other factors may have also been in play.

Given that Antarctica carries around 70% of the world’s fresh water and could potentially lift sea levels to as high as 60m if the whole of the continent were to melt, these new developments are definitely cause for concern. While there is nothing that can be done to reverse the inevitable, changes can be made now to try and slow, or potentially stop, more processes like this happening in the future.

It’s a lot to ask, and would require contribution from most of the Earth’s population to make a significant difference, but something has to be done before we lose Antarctica forever.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.