A Giant Crack In Antarctica’s Ice Shelf Could Soon Split From The Continent

The crack in the Antarctica’s ice shelf, more accurately the crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, is expanding at a rapid rate.

Image Courtesy of: John Sonntag

During the mid-January, the crack suddenly widened by 6 miles, and now it is growing wider by the equivalent of six football fields every day. Larsen C Ice Shelf covers the northwestern part of the south continent, and the crack is 20 miles short of reaching the other end of the shelf.

When it breaks, an enormous chunk if the ice will break from the shelf, which can happen during the next couple of months. Adrian J. Luckman of Swansea University in Wales said that “The iceberg is likely to break free within the next few months.” The chunk will be large as half the size of Lebanon, “around 5,000 square kilometers.”

The break-up is inevitable since, according to Luckman, the crack moved from the softer ice part to another, more rigid ice that’s easier to crack.

Martin O’Leary, research officer at Swansea University and a member of Project MIDAS believes the crack will break very soon. Project MIDAS (an Antarctic research project based in Britain) started observing the crack in 2010, after it became clear that the rift is very prominent, compared to other Antarctica’s ice shelf rifts. “It’s been of particular interest since around 2014, when it became clear that the berg was going to be a large one,” O’Leary said.

The cause for the appearance of the large rift is a “natural process” according to O’Leary, happening once in every couple of decades. The last time a huge ice shelf separated from Antarctica was in the mid-80s. Although the cause is of natural origins, it may lead to the ice shelf being more prone to climate changes, accelerating its collapse.

Consequences could include nearby glaciers to move closer to the ocean since ice shelves support the glaciers resting inside Antarctica.