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New Crack Found in Larsen C Ice Shelf, Could Accelerate Massive Breakoff

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An aerial view of the Larsen C ice rift. John Sonntag/NASA

A new branch has split off the widening crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf in another sign of the ice's impending breakoff, scientists reported this week.


British researchers monitoring the ice shelf using satellite technology spotted the new nine-mile-long branch, which runs about six miles below the original crack. The rift in the Larsen Ice Shelf, now about 111 miles long, grew by 17 miles between December and January of this year, and only 12 additional miles of ice remain attaching the calving ice to the larger shelf.

The coming breakoff, amounting to 10 percent of the ice shelf, could accelerate the further breakup of the ice shelf and "fundamentally change" the makeup of the Antarctic.

"As of May 1, 2017, we have observed a significant change in the rift on the Larsen C ice shelf," wrote the Project Midas researchers on their website.

According to Project MIDAS, "there is not enough information to know whether the expected calving event on Larsen C is an effect of climate change or not, although there is good scientific evidence that climate change has caused thinning of the ice shelf."

As EcoWatch reported previously, the loss of this portion of the ice shelf will not raise sea levels as it is already floating on the water. However, as these ice shelves disintegrate, the land-locked glaciers they hold back may begin sliding into the sea. If all of the ice the Larsen C ice shelf holds back slides into the ocean, it will raise sea levels globally by four inches.

For a deeper dive:

Washington Post, USA Today, Mashable, Climate Central

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