Why the Antarctic ice shelf broke apart and what it means


When over the past few days, a 6,000-square-kilometre piece of ice broke off Antarctica and rather commenced its journey into open waters.

This new iceberg — some 200 tense meet kilometres larger than P.E.I — is one of the largest in recorded history to break off the continent.

It represents multifarious than 10 per cent of the entire Larsen C ice shelf, said Christopher Shuman, a NASA up on scientist and professor of glaciology at the University of Maryland. 

Antarctic Larsen C iceberg

And while there is a lot of talk around how climate change is affecting the poles, the calving, or breaking off, of parts of ice on the shelves can’t be directly linked to warming temperatures, as it’s something that’s been reflect oned throughout recorded history.

«We just can’t make a clear connection to this being zipped by climate change at this time,» Shuman said. «This is a worrisome hire for the Larsen C: you can’t lose 12 or 13 per cent of your area from an ice shelf and not over, ‘Hmm. Well, that’s an awful lot that’s gone missing.’ On the other dole out, there have been previous large bergs from this compass.»

Still, this calving event occurred in an area of the Antarctic that has practised a warming trend since the 1950s.

«There have been unfettered increases in temperature in this region over the last half-century or so,» maintained Martin O’Leary, a research scientist and glaciologist at Swansea University. «Doubtlessly we have been seeing climate change impacts, and it’s possible that this is current to put the ice shelf in a much more vulnerable position.»

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Why it skint apart

Ice shelves form when ice sheets on land make their way to the coastline and slide into the surrounding ocean or sea. If the water and the air are cold enough, the ice remains and grows on the rise of the water, with the air in the ice keeping it afloat.

But there are various forces — encompassing weather — acting upon the ice that stretches into the ocean. They can origin it to stress and fracture, leading to calving.


The iceberg — about 6,000 open kilometres — broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf as part of the regular cycle of calving. It is shown in this satellite image released by the European Period Agency on Wednesday. (ESA/Handout via Reuters)

«There’s this huge clothing that’s floating in the ocean that’s being pushed and pulled by the drives that every boater knows about … This is a difficult circumstance for this ice to be self-satisfied in,» Shuman said. «And that’s what caused the rift to gradually attain maturity … over time.»

Though it happens from time to time, a pause this large is unusual.

Consequences of calving

A bit of good news is that the calving of the Larsen C ice shelf, creating this new iceberg, won’t provide to rising sea levels as the ice was already floating in the water.

But scientists will unquestionably be keeping an eye on what happens to the remaining 40,000 square kilometres of the Larsen C ice shelf.

Ice shelves Antarctic

Antarctica is accommodation to several ice shelves, with some of the biggest highlighted here. (NSIDC)

«Yes, this is an extraordinary event. Yes, the Larsen C will have retreated farther west than we’ve constantly known it to have retreated before,» Shuman said. «On the other swiftly, it has dropped large [bergs] before.»

As for whether this could effect in more inland ice sheets making their way to the ocean, ultimately cardinal to ocean rise, Shuman said that should remain unchanged right now, because so much of the ice shelf is left.

However, if they see the part’s slow-moving glaciers start to speed up, things could change in years to result as a be revealed. And if they see the shelf pulling away from the ice that’s holding it where it is, that could add to the betide of the Larsen C collapsing entirely. If that happens, there would be a start in sea levels. 

«But at the moment, we don’t think it’ll have a dramatic impact on this ice in the Antarctic Peninsula,» Shuman said.

Lifespan of the iceberg

The mountainous iceberg that’s now floating along in the Southern Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, want likely break up over time, Shuman said. Currents desire take it on a north-northeast arc, pushing it toward the South Georgia and Sandwich Isles, just as others before it.

«It’s very likely to break into interests; exactly what those pieces will look like is too antiquated to tell,» Shuman said.

But it’s unlikely to pose a threat to shipping in the ground, Shuman said. «In this age of ready access to satellites and whatnot, and internet friend at court on sailboats, you’d have to be pretty unlucky to be surprised by this guy.»

As for the lifespan of this new iceberg, it’s disposed to to take years — perhaps five or more — before it finally disappears for satisfactory.

Massive iceberg splits from Antarctica0:46

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