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The Icing on the Cake: A Crack in Larsen C Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months

Emma Fusco

A crack in Antarctica’s shelf, called Larsen C, has been inching closer and closer to a full break.  Since December, the crack has grown seventeen miles.  To put that statistic into a user-friendly perspective, that’s about the length of five football fields per day.  With only about 20 miles left to reach the other end of the ice shelf, scientists are quite concerned with it become a full break.  This full break would create the largest icebergs ever recorded.

Project Midas is a research team that has been keeping this rift under close watch since 2014.  The team is expecting the break very soon.  Currently, the crack is over 100 miles in length with some parts over two miles wide.

Ice shelves form through runoff from glaciers and provide support to the glaciers that rest on land.  Once the ice shelf collapses, the glaciers will move toward the ocean.  Once the ice shelf breaks at the crack, Larson C, the fourth-largest ice shelf, will be at its smallest size ever recorded.  Should the shelf collapse completely, the front of the shelf will move closer to the compressive arch, which is critical for structural support.  Once the front moves past that line, the shelf could collapse within months, potentially changing the entire landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Once the shelf retreats, the glaciers will follow suit, essentially like removing a stopper in a full bathtub.  According to Dr. Rignot, the collapse of the entire Larsen C ice shelf would only add a tiny amount of water to the global sea level.  The bigger concern is how the collapse of the ice shelves will affect the glaciers behind them.  The melting of the glaciers will cause a much higher rise in ocean levels.

 

Jugal K. Patel, A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/07/science/earth/antarctic-crack.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fearth&action=click&contentCollection=earth&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

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