Less than a week ago, a block of ice separated itself from Antarctica. A block that is the size of Delaware is now located in the Weddell Sea, floating aimlessly.
Although there is no danger of sea level rising, this shows us what global warming does to sea floating ice shelves. Scientists said that break of this one trillion tons block of ice changed the shape of Antarctic’s west peninsula for the next few decades.
The break of this ice block was confirmed by scientists at Project Midas, a research team that gathers scientists from Aberystwyth University and Swansea University, using data from NASA satellites.
Ice block known as Larsen C started growing rapidly this January, and has increased in length to 120 miles and left the iceberg hanging by a line of ice wide less than 3 miles. Scientists had been keeping eye on the rift for years before this happened.
They said they expected this to happen and add that they “have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice,” It’s hard to predict what happens next. “It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments,” said the project’s lead investigator Adrian Luckman. Some parts could sail to warmer waters in the north, and some parts could stay in the same are for years to come.
Scientists are divided on opinions about whether this was inducted by man made climate changes or not. Although the warming slowed it’s paste, Antarctica was the fastest warming place on Earth for most of the 20th century..
“We’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change” said Martin O’Leary, this glaciologist at Project Midas added that break away of the iceberg is natural process called calving.
Scientists said that this is very useful event that will help them study fracturing of the ice shelves, adding that this is a rare opportunity to understand how rising can temperature rising affect the region.
Some are worried that this Larsen C reducing by 12% by calving could destabilize rest of the shelves. This thick ice platforms floating on the ocean at the edge of the Antarctic are holding back glaciers that feed into them.
Larsen C is named after the Norwegian explorer Carl Anton Larsen, the man who discovered it in 1893. Larsen Ice Shelf is part of the glacier string. It was first photographed in the 1960s, and even than one could spot the crack.
Ice shelves form as ice sheets (large accumulations of snow on the surface of the land) which then flow downhill to the ocean. The shelves lose weight in the form of icebergs or by melting on the bottom.
Checking if sheet is gaining as much ice as it is losing is one of the ways to see how healthy it is.
Ice sheets are getting bigger with snow accumulating and freezing on the top of the land, and they lose ice by melting or calving. Shelves are known to collapse of big enough iceberg calves off. That is how Larsen A and Larsen B disappeared in 1952 and 2002.
Larsen C probably wont collapse for decades more, but it has retreated farther back than in the last 125 years. Scientists said that by more bergs detaching “it will become weaker and eventually fall apart in a domino effect”. Larsens A and B held back small amount of glacial ice, but if all the ice behind Larsen C melted away, sea level would rise for about half an inch.
“As climate warming advances farther south, it will affect larger and larger ice shelves that currently hold back bigger and bigger glaciers, so their collapse will contribute more to sea level rise,” said Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine glaciologist and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.