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Scientists Warn Antarctica’s Largest Ice Shelf Could Soon Break Off A Delaware-Sized Iceberg

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Scientists Warn Antarctica’s Largest Ice Shelf Could Soon Break Off A Delaware-Sized Iceberg

A long-growing crack in the Larsen C ice shelf appears to be nearing its endgame, becoming one of the largest icebergs ever recorded.

Researchers with Project MIDAS, working out of  Swansea University and Aberystwyth University in Wales and studying the shelf by satellites and through other techniques, have released a new update:

“In the largest jump since January, the rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf has grown an additional 17 km (11 miles) between May 25 and May 31 2017. This has moved the rift tip to within 13 km (8 miles) of breaking all the way through to the ice front, producing one of the largest ever recorded icebergs. The rift tip appears also to have turned significantly towards the ice front, indicating that the time of calving is probably very close.”

Here’s an image from the researchers showing the progression of the crack:




The current location of the rift on Larsen C, as of May 31 2017. Credit: Project MIDAS

The researchers have estimated that the section of ice set to break off could be around 2,000 square miles in area. The U.S. state of Delaware isn’t much larger than that.

“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,” write the Project MIDAS team. “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.”

The MIDAS Project will continue to monitor the development of the rift and assess its ongoing impact on the ice shelf. Further updates will be available on their blog and their Twitter feed.




NASA photograph by John Sonntag.

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