Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Larsen’s rift

A melting glacier A melting glacier Bernhard Staehli
05 Mar
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

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown

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...


Parkesine, celluloid and Bakelite – the first three kinds of…


Flat and level landscapes might not have much to offer…


Winning entries include meerkats, zebra sharks and courting nudibranches


The UN’s World Ocean Day is a day to celebrate…


Breathe easier this World Environment day with this collection of…


A 50-year look at the activity of aphids, moths, butterflies…


The British Isles are packed with natural landmarks that serve…


The prestigious photography awards to go on display in some…


The discovery of a slow-motion earthquake near Istanbul, which took…


The 2014 to 2016 marine heatwave, which took place off…


Marco Magrini discovers that hydrogen is back, but hopefully not…


 A ten-year analysis of chimpanzees has revealed that the presence…


The return of the pine marten to UK forests has…


A project in Orkney is converting excess wind energy into…


Mountains provide a dramatic sight at the best of times,…


A surge in reports of dead hares has resulted in…


Four scientists have banded together to make the case against the farming of octopuses, arguing…


As planetary oil consumption hits the 100-million-barrel mark Marco Magrini…


A ship that ran aground early in February has been…


Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…