Quantcast
Popular

Stunning Photos Show Huge Crack in Antarctic Ice Shelf

NASA has just released new aerial photographs that show, close-up, an immense, 70-mile long rift in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. The breach is 300 feet wide and one-third of a mile deep. As it grows, an iceberg the size of Delaware will break off.

Operation Icebridge, in its eighth year of conducting airborne survey of polar ice, flew two missions in November around the 88th parallel. The highly sophisticated aircraft is equipped with radars, lasers, digital imaging and infrared sensors.

The Larsen ice shelf, in the East Antarctic, is of interest because two previous sections have broken off and disappeared into the sea. Larsen A collapsed in 1995. In 2002, Larsen B began to break apart. Within six weeks, a 1,235 square mile chunk of ice slipped away, which scientists attributed to warmer air temperatures. Prior to that, the Larsen B ice shelf had been stable for 12,000 years.

Larsen C began thinning around the time that the other sections broke off, losing 13 feet between 1998 and 2012. But deterioration of the ice shelf has dramatically accelerated.

When the dark of the Southern Hemisphere winter lifted in August, scientists were shocked to see that the rift in the ice had grown nearly 14 miles.

"The growth of this rift likely indicates that the portion of the ice shelf downstream of the rift is no longer holding back any grounded ice," said Joe MacGregor, IceBridge deputy project scientist and glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Ice shelves ride on water and are fed by glaciers and continental ice streams. Cracks and calving are normal, and the loss of a portion of an ice shelf will not contribute to sea level rise as it is already afloat on the ocean. However, an ice shelf such as Larsen C holds back land ice, acting as a buttress. When a shelf disintegrates, the glaciers behind it can flow out to sea, which will directly increase sea level.

Long-term satellite observations show that Antarctic glaciers are rapidly retreating. In West Antarctica, they are losing 23 feet of elevation per year. As they slip away, they add up to 150 billion tons of water to the ocean, raising seas by about a tenth of an inch annually.

One of those glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, calved off a 225 square mile iceberg in 2015. Ohio State University researchers found that the rift began at the base of the glacier in 2013 and worked its way upward.

"It's generally accepted that it's no longer a question of whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt, it's a question of when," said study leader Ian Howat, associate professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State.

Britain's Halley VI research station has to be moved to avoid being lost at sea. British Antarctic Survey

A separate rift in the East Antarctic is forcing a British research station to relocate. It's on the wrong side of the crack and could be stranded out at sea.

Antarctica holds more than half of the planet's fresh water in its snow, glaciers and ice formations. But conditions around the continent are worsening.

The NASA mission also flew over Antarctic sea ice. It found coverage to be sparse in the Bellingshausen Sea, on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

In November, Antarctic air temperatures were 3.6 - 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. Antarctic sea ice set a new record low, as did the Arctic. Antarctic sea ice was a staggering 699,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average.

"Antarctic sea ice really went down the rabbit hole this time," said Ted Scambos, the lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse entirely within the next 100 years.

"The collapse would lead to a sea-level rise of nearly 10 feet, which would engulf major U.S. cities such as New York and Miami and displace 150 million people living on coasts worldwide," stated the Ohio State researchers.

NASA's Operation Icebridge flights were based this year at Punta Arenas, Chile. Next year, the agency plans to fly from McMurdo Station in Antarctica in order to survey new areas. But, future missions may be in doubt. President-elect Donald Trump has suggested eliminating all climate research conducted by NASA, leaving Antarctica and the rest of the planet in the "dark ages."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
www.facebook.com

Car Pollution Is Killing Coho Salmon

The grisly video above shows a coho salmon struggling to survive in polluted stormwater runoff on the Duwamish River in Washington. This contaminated water—filled with oil from cars, pesticides, dirt and debris—can kill this particular species of Pacific salmon in hours, according to Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which posted the clip on Oct. 21.

Sadly, it appears that this fish is one of many coho salmon in the Puget Sound Basin that have died, and will continue to die, from this man-made tragedy.

Keep reading... Show less
A tiger known as Tony spent his life in a cage at a Louisiana truck stop. Tony died last week. Janusz Sobolewski / Flickr

The Tragic Tale of Tony the Truck Stop Tiger

By Stephen Wells

For more than six years, the Animal Legal Defense Fund fought tirelessly to save a tiger named Tony from a cage in the parking lot of a Louisiana truck stop. Sadly, we received news last week that Tony had died of kidney failure after spending 16 years confined to his cage, living and dying as a roadside attraction. Tony's plight is a microcosm of the problems with our legal system, a system that treats sentient beings as property and affords disproportionate political influence to their captors and abusers.

Tony was born into captivity, sentenced from birth to a life of exploitation, a gimmick used by his owner Michael Sandlin to sell gasoline at the Tiger Truck Stop. It doesn't take a degree in veterinary medicine to know that a truck stop is no place for a tiger. But veterinarians and animal behaviorists weighed in emphatically on Tony's behalf. Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a doctor of veterinary medicine with decades of experience with captive large cats, personally visited Tony and concluded that he was "exploited to the detriment of his welfare."

Keep reading... Show less

'Landmark Decision' Casts Youth as Official Intervenors in Pipeline Case

By Frank Jossi

In what is regarded as an unusual step, a group of 13 young people have joined together to become court sanctioned intervenors as they fight a proposed Enbridge Energy pipeline through northern Minnesota.

Intervenors are sanctioned by the state Public Utilities Commission to represent parties in contested cases. They are generally lawyers and experts hired by energy firms, clean energy organizations, environmental groups, governmental agencies and an occasional citizen or two.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
The Masdar Solar Hub in the United Arab Emirates is a state-of-the art solar testing and R&D hub for photovoltaic and solar thermal technology. Masdar

Solar Power Forecast: Record-Low Costs Expected to Keep Plummeting as Technology Improves

The already-plummeting costs of installing solar power could fall an additional 60 percent over the next decade, the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said Monday.

IRENA director general Adnan Amin told Reuters that the organization expects an additional 80 to 90 GW of solar capacity will be added worldwide each year for the next five to six years, and that improvements in technology, including batteries, will help drive down costs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Scott Pruitt. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Report: EPA Hires 12 More Bodyguards for Pruitt, Costing $2M Annually for Full Security Team

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has been noted for taking unusual steps to operate with extreme caution at the job—including the installation of a $25,000 soundproof communications booth and contravening a bi-partisan EPA transparency practice of keeping his schedule secret.

Now, CNN reports, the EPA is expanding Pruitt's security detail with an additional 12 agents, meaning his total security fleet stands at 30 bodyguards. This will cost the department $2 million a year in salaries alone and does not include training, equipment or travel.

Keep reading... Show less
Surfrider Foundation / Twitter

Offshore Oil Drilling May Be Coming to a Coastline Near You

By Pete Stauffer

It's nearly impossible to convince certain people, most notably leaders of our federal administration, that bold action is needed on climate change, but recent events have certainly made a compelling case.

Three major hurricanes have battered U.S. coasts in recent months, impacting the lives of millions of people and causing billions of dollars in damage. Although no single storm event can be blamed directly on climate change, scientific experts agree that the warming climate and ocean waters contribute to the frequency and scale of hurricanes—putting the residents, natural resources and economic security of coastal communities at elevated risk. This makes the Trump administration's proposal to expand offshore oil drilling off U.S. coasts all the more dubious.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Taken on Oct. 11 in Barrio Maní, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Cathy Mazak

'We Are Not OK': A First-Hand Account of Hurricane Maria

By Cathy Mazak

I'm so happy to be able to communicate with you again. As many of you know, I live in western Puerto Rico. In this post I want to tell you a little about my family's experience with Maria, and how you can help Puerto Rico.

On Thursday Sept. 21, when the sun came up, I looked out our front door at a wintery landscape. There was not one leaf on one tree in all the tropical forest that surrounds our property. Instead, the walls of my house were plastered with one-inch-by-one-inch pieces of leaves. It was as if they had been stripped off the trees, chopped in a food processor, and coated onto our house with a pressure washer.

Keep reading... Show less
Shutterstock

12 Global Cities Commit to Create Green and Healthy Streets By 2030

On Monday, the mayors of London, Paris, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Mexico City, Milan, Seattle, Auckland and Cape Town committed to a series of ambitious targets to make their cities greener, healthier and more prosperous. By signing the C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration, the pioneering city leaders pledged to procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 and ensure that a major area of their city is zero emission by 2030. The policies are designed to fight air pollution, improve the quality of life for all citizens and help tackle the global threat of climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox