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Click here for Linda Moulton Howe's 2017 Bio.

Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf Could Soon Split Off
2,000 Square Miles of Ice

© 2017 by Linda Moulton Howe

 

“If it doesn't go in the next few months, I'll be amazed.”

- Adrian Luckman, Ph.D., Project Leader,
MIDAS Project, Swansea Univ., Wales

“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.”

- U. K. MIDAS Project Report, January 5, 2017

 

The current location of the 2,000 square mile ice shelf nearly the size of Delaware is marked
off by the yellow, orange and fuschia date lines show the growing rift on the Antarctic
Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf. The crack has grown dramatically since 2011 by some 50 miles
and has widened to more than 1,000 feet now. Illustration by the U. K. MIDAS Project
in Swansea and Aberysthwyth Universities, Wales.


The Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C 1,000-foot-wide and over 50 miles long ice crack
on November 10, 2016. Aerial image courtesy NASA and John Sonntag.

 

January 8, 2017 Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula - The MIDAS Project — Impact of Melt on Ice Shelf Dynamics and Stability — is a UK-based Antarctic research project that has been investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf. “Recent warming has caused large melt ponds to form on Larsen C during summer, which are changing the structure of the ice. The effects of this on the future of the ice shelf are still unknown.”

On January 5, 2017, the MIDAS scientists reported that the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula “is primed to shed an area of more than 5000 square kilometers following further substantial rift growth. After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20 km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.


A crack in the Larsen C ice shelf as photographed on November 10, 2016.
Aerial image courtesy NASA and John Sonntag.

“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 funda-mentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. 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 neighbor Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event.

 

Will Larsen C Huge Ice Shelf
Calving Cause Sea Level Rise?

Larsen C floats on the sea, so the Delaware-size ice chunk ready to calve won't cause sea levels to rise. However, Larsen C has long been fed by glaciers that are on land above sea level on the Antarctic Peninsula. The problem is that when Larsen C splits off, those glaciers can flow more rapidly into the ocean from land and that will cause seas to rise.

Current estimates are that if all the glacier ice that the Larsen C ice shelf has kept from getting into the ocean is suddenly freed to move forward, global ocean waters will rise 4 inches (10 cm).

 

Mysterious Winds Cause Rapid Antarctic Ice Melt

In February 2016, scientists were amazed by a blizzard on the Antarctic Peninsula. It left several feet of snow blowing on the ground while a patch of blue sky could be seen above. All the snow was recycled ice that had been blasted off glaciers by intense winds. Adding to the weirdness was the warm temperature that reached 40 degrees F. causing the “snow” to rapidly turn to mush and hundreds of ponds to form on the Starbuck Glacier near Mount Queequeq where scientists watched the “wind-snow” phenomenon unfold.

The foehn winds, as they are called, are produced by changes in the Earth's atmospheric circulation due to climate warming. Not only do the fierce winds produce recycled snowstorms by scouring ice from glacier surfaces, but those winds are taking away once-insulating snow cover from Larsen C, accelerating its calving a Delaware-sized ice chunk into the Southern Ocean.



The Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean or Austral Ocean, comprises the
southernmost waters of Earth, generally south of 60° S latitude and encircling Antarctica.

Also see:

• 09/26/2014 — 314 North American Bird Species Face Extinction This Century Because Climate Is Changing Faster Than They Can Adapt

• 02/27/2014 — Warming Arctic Driving Wavy Jet Stream and More Persistent Weather Extremes

• 12/05/2009 — Last Time Earth Without Ice: 55 Million Years Ago


For further information about Antarctic and Arctic ice changes, please see reports in the Earthfiles Archive organized in chronological order from 1999 to 2016 ongoing of which a few are listed here.

• 12/18/2015 — Will New Paris Climate Agreement Be Able to Limit Global Warming to 2 Degrees C. (3.6 deg. F.) Above Pre-Industrial Temperatures?
• 10/29/2015 — Why Mysterious Huge and Very Cold “Blob” in the North Atlantic?
• 09/02/2015 — Is Our Sun “Going to Sleep” in 2030?
• 09/26/2014 — 314 North American Bird Species Face Extinction This Century Because Climate Is Changing Faster Than They Can Adapt
• 02/27/2014 — Warming Arctic Driving Wavy Jet Stream and More Persistent Weather Extremes
• 07/25/2013 — 50,000-Year-Old Cypress Forest Discovered 60 Feet Underwater Off Mobile, Alabama.
• 06/27/2013 — Unusual Jet Stream Melts Greenland Ice
• 11/29/2012 — Climate Change Threatens National Security, Says CIA-Commissioned Study
• 10/25/2012 — Global Warming Is Expected to Increase from Rapid Arctic Ice Melt and Methane Release.
• 08/17/2012 — Arctic Ice Melt Shrinks At Record Pace, While Greenland Also Melts
• 12/05/2009 — Last Time Earth Without Ice: 55 Million Years Ago
• 12/02/2009 — Amid Climate Data Email Scandal, U. K. Climate Research Director Resigns Pending University Inquiry
• 10/24/2008 — Rapidly Changing Earth
• 10/05/2007 — Earlier, Faster and Deeper Arctic Ice Melt Down
• 08/08/2007 — 2007's Warm, Erratic Global Weather
• 06/01/2007 — Is Earth Close to Dangerous Tipping Point in Global Warming?
• 05/18/2007 — Antarctica: Unprecedented Western Ice Melt and CO2-Saturated Southern Ocean


Websites:

MIDAS Project, "Larsen C Ice Shelf Poised to Calve," January 5, 2017, by Adrian Luckman and MIDAS Team: http://www.projectmidas.org/blog/larsen-c-ice-shelf-poised-to-calve/

"Warmer Oceans Driving Antarctic Peninsula Glacier Melt," CarbonBrief, July 14, 2016: https://www.carbonbrief.org/warmer-oceans-driving-antarctic-peninsula-glacier-melt-study-says

"Mysterious Winds Cause Rapid Melting of antarctic Ice," November 15, 2016, National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/11/foehn-winds-melt-ice-shelves-antarctic-peninsula-larsen-c/


 

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