More bad news from Antarctica as NASA scientists have photographed an enormous rift within the Larsen C ice shelf. The crack is about 113 kilometers (70 miles) long, more than 90 meters (300 feet) across, and 0.5 kilometers (0.3 miles) deep.
The rift is similar to a previous one that appeared on Larsen B, which caused the ice shelf to separate and disintegrate in 2002. Prior to that event, Larsen B had remained unchanged for almost 12,000 years.
Ice shelves are the floating parts of glaciers in Antartica. They are not merely extensions into the ocean, but act as a crucial support for the polar ice cap. Most of the ice in Antarctica is not on water but on land, and without ice shelves, the continental ice will accelerate into the ocean and melt.
The fracture was photographed on November 10 as part of Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey of Antarctic ice. The survey has been tracking the change in the South Pole due to the devastating effects of global warming.
Ian Howat, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, explained why the rift is a big problem. “This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers,” he said, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes.”
Howat said it’s not a question of if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt — but when. The rift only supports this scary claim.