A 5,000 km2 piece of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is threatening to break free in the coming weeks, with reports that the widening crack is only 20 kilometers from reaching the edge of the Antarctic shelf. Professor Adrian Luckman, who works with Project MIDAS (Impact of Melt on Ice Shelf Dynamics and Stability) explains that it is only a matter of time before the split materializes itself into one of the biggest icebergs in recent human history.
“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.”
However, the question as to when the complete break will occur is yet to be answered, with Prof Luckman believing it is only a matter of weeks before the ice shelf slips away from Antarctica, per the BBC.
“Although you might expect any extension to hasten the point of calving, it actually remains impossible to predict when it will break because the fracture process is so complex. My feeling is that this new development suggests something will happen within weeks to months, but there is an outside chance that further growth will be slow for longer than that.”
Once the C Shelf detaches itself, it is expected to be swept out to sea and taken by the currents, following the same fate as most other giant icebergs who break off the Antarctic shelf – running aground off the coast of South Georgia, where it melts and dumps billions of tonnes of water into the surrounding ocean. The island, a 170 kilometer long piece of England lost in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, has been the final resting place of a multitude of large ice blocks over the past few years, and apart from serving as an iceberg graveyard, is also known for being part of Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 return from his Trans-Arctic Expedition.
The rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf is not the first of its’ kind, with the Larsen B Ice Shelf suffering from a similar fate in 2002, shattering in a period of five weeks after enjoying over 12,000 years of stability and the A Shelf disintegrating in 1995. With global climate change blamed as the root cause for the loss of ice cover worldwide, several ice shelves, such as the Greenland Ice Sheet, have fallen apart over the past few decades, threatening to raise the world’s sea levels .