Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...

Climate

History is littered with examples of fungi helping to digest…

Geophoto

The streets of Philadelphia are home to a small and forgotten…

Geophoto

When photographer Matthew Maran first snapped a fox he had…

Wildlife

Coloradans have voted to reintroduce grey wolves to the state

Energy

Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-assess the supply chains of…

Geophoto

Andrea DiCenzo is a photojournalist, who has covered conflicts for…

Oceans

Field observations of corals around the world reveal that not…

Climate

The Great Plains of the USA are once again getting…

Climate

Attempts to build a digital twin of the Earth could…

Oceans

Food systems will need to change as the global population…

Wildlife

Zoos do a lot more than welcome excited visitors; closures…

Oceans

 BluHope is back with a day of webinars to promote…

Wildlife

WildEast, a grassroots community initiative, is encouraging volunteers to commit…

Wildlife

With growing global awareness of the risks of hunting and…

Climate

Researchers have identified the extent of microplastic contamination throughout the…

Wildlife

The Thames Estuary has long been home to heavy industry,…

Wildlife

Whydahs and indigobirds, collectively known as the vidua finches, show…

Oceans

Whales sequester an enormous amount of carbon, making their protection…