Larsen C Ice Shelf Starts To Crack, Leaving The Remaining Iceberg In Danger

First Posted: Aug 28, 2016 05:34 AM EDT

Scientists who have been observing Antarctica have observed the progression of a large crack in one of the world's great ice shelves, the Larsen C. The crack is threatening to break off an iceberg with a size as big as Delaware. Since the crack is spreading quickly, the collapse could happen real soon.

According to Huffington Post, Project MIDAS, a United Kingdom-based project has been monitoring a large rift in the Larsen C ice shelf, which can be found on the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, for two years already. And if the project's findings are correct, Larsen C could undergo the same fate like that of its neighbors Larsen A and Larsen B, both of which collapsed and fell apart in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

Scientists from Project MIDAS have been checking the initial outburst since 2011 and said that the crack has expanded 22 kilometers, or 14 miles since March of this year. It was observed that the entire Antarctic Peninsula has been warming quickly over the years that has led to several devastating effects for wildlife and the destabilization of remaining shelves. However, it was found that even if the iceberg breaks free, sea levels would not be affected since it's already floating in the ocean.

Martin O'Leary, one of MIDAS' researchers, told Mashable, "The ice shelf loss icebergs like this naturally every few decades, but we're concerned that this one might extend far enough back that it breaks the 'compressive arch' which is holding the ice shelf in place." The Larsen C Shelf already had a chunk of ice separate from it in 1988, although it poked quite far into the ocean.

Scientists have predicted that the event would consume the main shelf that will leave the rest of the area vulnerable to new calving events. Last year, scientists reported that the crack "is likely in the near future to generate the largest calving event since the 1980s and result in a new minimum area for the ice shelf." 

Meanwhile, Project MIDAS previously estimated the breakaway would remove between 9 and 12 percent of the ice shelf. According to an article by The Boston Globe, the MIDAS team wrote in its post last week: "The trajectory of the rift now implies that the higher of these two estimates is more likely. Computer modeling suggests that the remaining ice could become unstable and that Larsen C may follow the example of its neighbor Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event."

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