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80-Miles and Cracking

80-Miles and Cracking

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, August 24, 2016/Categories: natural history, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change

                             Larsen-C Ice Sheet, March-August 2016 (credit: Project MODIS)

A piece of Antarctica's Larsen-C ice shelf is cracking and could release a floating block of ice the size of Scotland when it detaches from the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Project MIDAS team at the British Antarctic Survey has reported they have been tracking the progress of a rift in the ice shelf for almost two years. The crack grew rapidly during the ending Antarctic winter and now extends 80 miles since their measurements began.

In their announcement, the Project MODIS researchers said they used 'big data' gathered from satellite and eight radar surveys of the ice shelf over a 15-year period between 1998-2012. They found that Larsen-C had lost an average of more than 13 feet of ice during the period.

The said:

"What's exciting is we now know that two different processes are causing Larsen-C to thin and become less stable. Air is being lost from the top layer of snow, which is becoming more compacted, probably from increased melting by a warmer atmosphere. Also, we know that Larsen-C is losing ice from below, probably from warmer ocean currents."

NASA had predicted previously that the entire floating shelf of ice was entering its 'final act'. In 2002, the Larsen-B section partially collapsed and an area of ice covering more than 1250 square miles, the size of Rhode Island, broke off into the Antarctic ocean. The Larsen-B section had been stable essentially since the last ice age, 12,000 years ago. In 2015, a study concluded that the remainder would disintegrate by the end of the decade.


                                Larsen-B Ice Shelf Breakup, 2002 (credit: NASA MODIS satellite)

Increases in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures from a changing climate represent a 'double whammy' for ice at both poles.



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