Environment

Massive Antarctica Iceberg Hangs by a Thread, Signaling Frightening Possibility of Devastating Sea Level Rise

If all of the ice the Larsen C ice shelf holds back slides into the ocean, it will raise sea levels globally by four inches.

The wide view of the rift in Larsen C from the vantage point of NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft, taken on November 10, 2016, during an Operation IceBridge flight.
Photo Credit: John Sonntag/NASA

The growing rift in the Antarctic Peninsula has now lengthened to 110 miles, meaning that the Larsen C ice shelf is now connected to the main ice shelf by only a 12-mile "thread," USA TODAY reports.

The British Antarctic Survey determined that the crack has expanded by 50 miles since 2011.

"It is particularly hard to predict when it will occur," Adrian Luckman of Project MIDAS told USA TODAY about the eventual calving, which would create a Delaware-sized iceberg. "I am quite surprised as to how long it is holding on!"

"The rift (or crack) has continued to open, and the berg continues to drift outward at a very consistent rate," Luckman added.

However, he noted that the crack has not grown longer in recent weeks. 

As EcoWatch mentioned previously, the loss of this portion of the ice shelf will not raise sea levels as it is already floating on the water. However, as these ice shelves disintegrate, the land-locked glaciers they hold back may begin sliding into the sea. If all of the ice the Larsen C ice shelf holds back slides into the ocean, it will raise sea levels globally by four inches.

According to Project MIDAS, "there is not enough information to know whether the expected calving event on Larsen C is an effect of climate change or not, although there is good scientific evidence that climate change has caused thinning of the ice shelf." 

Temperatures at the Antarctic Peninsula, where the Larsen ice shelf is found, have risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years.

Antarctica's ice shelves are indeed melting rapidly as ocean waters warm. Climate Nexus reported in October that three glaciers in West Antarctica have undergone "intense unbalanced melting," risking their stability and further acceleration of sea level rise.

Research published in Nature Communications found that the Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers in the Amundsen Sea embayment collectively lost about 1,000 feet of ice from 2002 to 2009.

 

Lorraine Chow is a freelance writer and reporter based in South Carolina.

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