Larsen’s rift

A melting glacier A melting glacier Bernhard Staehli
05 Mar
2015
Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves are long gone, breaking from the Antarctic Peninsula in 1995 and 2002 respectively. Now researchers at Swansea University suggest that Larsen C, big brother to the two vanished shelves, is cracking up

Ice shelves are permanent extensions to an ice sheet, usually several hundred metres thick, that float on the Antarctic’s ocean fringes.

Satellite data from NASA was used to track rapid changes to a large rift that developed in Larsen C during 2014.

When the next ice calves – ice chunks that fall from a glacier or ice sheet – break away from Larsen C the shelf will be reduced by ten per cent, according to the research.

This is a massive chunk. The Larsen C shelf has an area two and a half times that of Wales and is the fourth largest ice shelf in the world.

‘It is not possible to predict when the ice will calve away, but when it does, it will be the largest event of its kind since the 1980s. A similar calving preceded the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002,’ says Adrian Luckman, lead researcher on the project.

shutterstock 3467376An Antarctic ice shelf (Image: Armin Rose)

Computer models show that once this latest collapse has happened the shelf will be left unstable, and at risk of further collapse.

‘Rifting and calving of this magnitude is not unusual. The critical thing is that our model shows that even for the most modest of projected calving extents, the remaining ice will be significantly less stable than at present,’ says Daniela Jansen, a researcher on the project.

There will be no immediate impact from the ice shelf collapse because the ice is already floating, but if Larsen C continues to collapse ice covering mountains in the Antarctic Peninsula pinned by the shelf may be released, contributing to sea level rise.

Although the latest collapse cannot be directly attributed to climate change, and may be part of a natural cycle, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Get the best stories from Geographical delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

This winter has seen frequent storms and flooding hitting many…

Wildlife

The bison, Poland’s symbol of nature conservation, already faces controversial…

Wildlife

Wolves have arrived at a wildlife park in Devon as…

Climate

An unassuming beach in Denmark is absorbing record-breaking levels of…

Energy

The environmental cost of military activities is significant. Could new…

Wildlife

Latest figures suggest that there are more than twice as…

Tectonics

How does the proposed allocation of ‘Zealandia’ as an independent…

Wildlife

Is extinction forever? While most would assume that yes, extinction…

Geophoto

Wide-angle photography is perhaps the best way to recreate the…

Wildlife

New book aims to follow in the success of last…

Wildlife

With Queensland koala numbers in free-fall, a novel idea suggests…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Tectonics

Fears that volcano eruptions in Iceland are set to regularly…

Oceans

Now we can all experience diving to the deepest point…

Wildlife

The new President of the United States has a namesake…

Geophoto

17,000 photographs from over 50 countries have been whittled down…

Wildlife

Red squirrels are found to be afflicted with a stubborn…

Polar

The toll, as a response to melting sea ice, would…

Climate

Could rail be the sustainable long-distance freight transport the world…

Energy

Abandoned oil and gas wells in the US are leaking significant…