Polar News

Antarctica to Drop the Mother of All Icebergs

Scientists from the European Space Agency are saying that a crack in Antarctica’s massive Larsen-C ice shelf is in the process of creating a monster iceberg.

According to a statement from ESA, “When the ice shelf calves this iceberg it will be one of the largest ever recorded – but exactly how long this will take is difficult to predict. The sensitivity of ice shelves to climate change has already been observed on the neighboring Larsen-A and Larsen-B ice shelves, both of which collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively. These ice shelves are important because they act as buttresses, holding back the ice that flows towards the sea.”

Larsen B vanished almost entirely in 2002 after a catastrophic breakup in a little over a month, losing 3,250 square kilometers (1,250 square miles) of ice. The breakup of Larsen A’s northern section in 1995 also was rapid but less dramatic, pulverizing some 1,500 square kilometers (579 square miles) of ice.

Press coverage of the Larsen C crack increased at the start of 2017, when British researchers revealed that a jagged split in the ice shelf, on the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula, grew by 27 kilometers (17 miles) in only two months’ time. Scientists from NASA have said that the event is not necessarily unusual.

“It’s not necessarily a sign of enhanced change or melting or anything like that,” said Helen Fricker, a geophysics professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a member of the NASA Sea Level Change Team. “Rifts propagate and icebergs calve off ice shelves. This is a process by which ice shelves lose the mass they have gained through snowfall. It’s not a big deal.”

Still, such a large iceberg formed from an ice shelf will break into smaller icebergs that are hazards to marine vessels.

Polar scientist Anna Hogg said: “We can measure the iceberg crack propagation much more accurately when using the precise surface deformation information from an interferogram like this, rather than the amplitude – or black and white – image alone where the crack may not always be visible.”

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 two-satellite constellation is indispensable for discovering and monitoring events like these because it delivers radar images every six days, even when Antarctica is shrouded in darkness for several months of the year.

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