The unusual image blew up online and now NASA is back with more photos of weirdly angular icebergs from the same Operation IceBridge trip.
From yesterday's #IceBridge flight: A tabular iceberg can be seen on the right, floating among sea ice just off of… https://t.co/MOc3UjFRUQ— NASA Ice (@NASA Ice)1539794700.0
We usually think of icebergs as craggy chunks like the one from Titanic, but IceBridge senior support scientist Jeremy Harbeck caused a stir after he captured photos of the flat, sharp-cornered specimens.
"I thought it was pretty interesting; I often see icebergs with relatively straight edges, but I've not really seen one before with two corners at such right angles like this one had," Harbeck said in a NASA post.
This panorama of the entire tabular iceberg was edited together from two images taken while flying past the berg.NASA/Jeremy Harbeck
These nature-made frozen slabs have an official name: "tabular icebergs." Because of its smooth surface and clean edges, the rectangular berg likely only recently broke off the Larsen C ice shelf, which famously released a Delaware-sized chunk of ice last year, now dubbed A68.
"The iceberg's sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf," NASA tweeted.
In the new photo (at the top of this article), Harbeck captured a slightly less rectangular iceberg around the same area. Look closely and you can see a corner of the now-classic rectangular iceberg as well as A68 in the distance.
"I was actually more interested in capturing the A68 iceberg that we were about to fly over, but I thought this rectangular iceberg was visually interesting and fairly photogenic, so on a lark, I just took a couple photos," Harbeck added in the NASA post.
Massive Iceberg Finally Breaks Off: #Antarctic Landscape 'Changed Forever' https://t.co/S5KiGgMJ86 @greenpeaceusa @Greenpeace @MIDASOnIce— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1499862899.0
These calving events are like a long fingernail that eventually snaps off at the end, University of Maryland Earth scientist Kelly Brunt explained to LiveScience.
Such a break can create nearly perfect geometric edges, similar to when a glass plate shatters and creates straight edges, sea ice specialist Alek Petty told NPR.
Operation IceBridge Mission Scientist John Sonntag explains more about the tabular icebergs. Watch here:
New #IceBridge video: Mission Scientist John Sonntag provides commentary on footage from an Oct. 16 flight over the… https://t.co/aglmginyXF— NASA Ice (@NASA Ice)1540400402.0
- Trump Wants to Eliminate NASA's Climate Research Programs ... ›
- Stunning Photos Show Huge Crack in Antarctic Ice Shelf ›
By Douglas McCauley and Paul DeSalles
(The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.)
1. U.S. Drops Out of Paris
In our 2015 ocean top 10 list, we celebrated the adoption of the Paris agreement as a monumental achievement for slowing the warming, acidification and deoxygenation of our global oceans. In 2017, remaining nations like Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Syria ratified the agreement, bringing the total number of ratifying nations to 171. But in a radical about-face of global leadership on climate action, the Trump administration officially declared that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, citing unfair impacts on the American economy.
The Eiffel Tower in ParisJoe deSousa via Pexels
2. Most Expensive Hurricane Season Ever
Perhaps the most apropos follow-up to the item above on this top 10 list is hurricanes. This year's hurricane season yielded a total of 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes in the Atlantic, with three Category 4 storms hitting the U.S. for the first time on record. In aggregate, disaster modelers assessed damages from 2017's hurricanes at just over $200 billion—the most expensive season on record for the U.S. While no single hurricane can be attributed directly to climate change, observed increases in overall hurricane activity and intensity in the Atlantic may be linked to climate change.
Experimentally colored satellite image of Hurricane Irma as it passed the eastern end of Cuba on Sept. 8, 2017 NOAA/CIRA
3. Vaquita vs. Extinction
2017 saw the launch of a bold and desperate collaborative plan, VaquitaCPR, to save the very small and very endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. With perhaps only 30 vaquita (Phocoena sinus) left on Earth, VaquitaCPR spent months attempting to capture members of the elusive species with the aim of keeping them safe and perhaps breeding them in captivity until the danger of extinction had passed. But after the death of a captured vaquita, the VaquitaCPR team ended the program and called for renewed focus on enforcing a Mexican ban on gillnets, the leading cause of vaquita deaths in the animal's tiny home range in the upper Gulf of California.
VaquitaCPR team members with a vaquita calf that had been taken into captivity and held in a floating sea pen VaquitaCPR
4. Plastic Pollution
This year brought a number of notable advances in our understanding of how plastic pollution is affecting our oceans, as well as a surge in action to address this growing threat to ocean health and human health. This summer, researchers produced the first global assessment of all mass-produced plastics ever manufactured. They concluded that a whopping 8 billion metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date. Perhaps even more alarmingly, they determined that only 9 percent of our global plastic waste is recycled, an issue that may be exacerbated by China's announcement this summer that it would drastically curtail the import of plastics and other waste for recycling. On the bright side, philanthropists, celebrities and the United Nations created a series of exciting campaigns to reduce single-use plastics and innovation prizes to reduce plastic waste. On the policy side, 2017 also saw California ban carry-out plastic bags, many states in Malaysia ban Styrofoam products, and Kenya enforced a nationwide ban on plastic bags.
A sculpture made of plastic trash collected from beaches, on exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, DC, in 2015 Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea / Smithsonian's National Zoo / Flickr
5. Iceberg A-68
At some point between July 10 and 12, 2017, a chunk of ice weighing more than a trillion metric tons broke free from the Antarctic Peninsula. While this particular calving event did not raise the sea level, there is great interest in what events like this may mean for the future of the Antarctic ice sheet and global sea-level rise. It remains to be seen whether the calving of the iceberg known as A-68 is a "normal" calving event or if it instead foretells the weakening or collapse of the Larsen C ice shelf to which it was once attached.
On July 12, 2017, the Landsat 8 satellite's Thermal Infrared Sensor captured this false-color image of iceberg A-68 breaking away from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf. Orange shows the warmest areas, particularly the crack between the iceberg and the ice shelf.NASA
6. Spying on Coral Reef Destruction
In a year of yin and yang, marine researchers made exciting advances in our technological capacity to observe from space how people are impacting oceans, and in so doing learned more about just how dire the scope is. In one notable 2017 study, for example, researchers developed techniques to use flocks of new shoebox-size satellites and documented that military base construction in parts of the South China Sea had led to the reduction of regional coral reefs by up to 70 percent.
Layang Layang Atoll, Spratly Islands, South China SeaGreg Asner / Divephoto.org
7. First Large-Scale Seabed Mining
This was also the year that humans broke ground on the world's first large-scale mineral extraction project in the ocean. The project, led by Japan, was launched 70 nautical miles (130 kilometers) from the island of Okinawa at a depth of about 1,600 meters (5,250 feet) near an inactive hydrothermal vent. Japan plans to begin commercially mining this site for ore that includes zinc, gold, copper and lead by 2020. The activities of mining vessels associated with this project, along with all seabed mining exploration worldwide, can now be tracked online. Also of note this year, the International Seabed Authority made important advances in developing a global Mining Code for the high seas, taking the world a step closer to bringing full-scale seabed mining into international waters.
Okinawa, JapanGoogle Maps
8. Arctic Fishing Ban
Historically, thick ice has prevented commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean. However, recent accelerated loss of summer sea ice has raised questions about the future of fishing in these delicate polar regions. In a prescient move, nine countries and the European Union agreed in late November 2017 to make the central Arctic Ocean off-limits to fishing for at least 16 years until more can be learned about the ecology and sensitivity of potential fisheries in the region.
9. New Mega Marine Parks
Another bright spot in 2017 ocean news was the establishment of massive protected areas in the ocean. Mexico created a protected area larger than Greece around a series of volcanic islands in the Revillagigedo Archipelago that host manta rays, sharks and sea turtles. The government of Chile and the people of Rapa Nui confirmed the establishment this year of an even larger marine protected area, roughly the size of the Chilean mainland, that was first announced in 2015. And the Mongolia-size Ross Sea Marine Protected Area near Antarctica, established in 2016, came into force on Dec. 1.
Humpback whales off the Revillagigedo Islands near MexicoThe Pew Charitable Trusts
10. Steps Toward a High-Seas Treaty
This year saw the United Nations take promising steps toward safeguarding marine life on the high seas, the immense stretches of open water beyond countries' jurisdictions that comprise two-thirds of global oceans. In July, a UN planning committee officially recommended that treaty negotiations begin. To close out 2017, on Dec. 24 the body resolved to kick off the treaty-negotiation process and planned a series of four meetings between 2018 and mid-2020. The treaty's final text is anticipated by late 2020. Hopefully this process will lead to the adoption of improved strategies and the creation of new policy tools, such as internationally sanctioned protected areas, that will help protect high-seas biodiversity.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Ilissa Ocko and Mason Fried
Scientists watched with alarm this week as the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica rapidly broke apart, causing an enormous, Delaware-size iceberg to float into the Southern Ocean.
After observing an anomalous rift widening across a section of the so-called Larsen C ice shelf for the past several years, researchers are left with some critical questions: What are this event's broader consequences for the Antarctic ice sheet, what happens next, and—importantly—what role did climate change play here?
Massive Iceberg Finally Breaks Off: Antarctic Landscape 'Changed Forever' https://t.co/f8cbmrcYrZ (@ecowatch)— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1499865365.0
For now, this event serves as yet another reminder that Antarctica is changing rapidly—and that action to curb rising global temperatures is critical.
Antarctica: A frontline for climate change
So far, scientists have been hesitant to attribute the Larsen C ice shelf breakup to rising global temperatures.
Indeed, such events—known to scientists as "calving"—occur naturally and are essential for maintaining ice shelf balance. Without them, ice shelves would grow unabated to cover large swaths of the Southern Ocean.
Still, the magnitude and timing of this ice loss warrants attention.
The Antarctic Peninsula, where the Larsen ice shelves reside, has long been viewed as a frontline for climate change. Warming in the peninsula exceeds the global average, glaciers there are retreating, and two other ice shelves on the peninsula already collapsed over the past couple of decades after being stable for thousands of years.
Such changes will help raise global sea levels by three to six feet by 2100, projections show, affecting dense coastal communities along our Eastern Seaboard and across the globe.
Ice breakup starts chain reaction
We do know that this calving event could set in motion a string of chain reactions that further destabilize the ice shelf and surrounding glaciers, and ultimately contribute to global sea level rise.
Ice shelves are floating extensions of grounded glaciers and ice sheets that, importantly, buttress and impede inland ice flow. When an ice shelf collapses or becomes weaker, this defense disappears, allowing inland glaciers to accelerate downslope and transport more ice to the ocean, which can quickly affect sea level.
Scientists worry that the remnant Larsen C ice shelf will now be at considerable risk of further breakup.
The new calving event reduced the ice shelf area by more than 10 percent, leaving behind an ice shelf that is inherently unstable. This can, in turn, trigger new ice cracks and rifting, and cause more icebergs to break off—further increasing the possibility of runaway ice loss amid rising global temperatures.
Whether or not this latest calving event will be attributed to climate change, it's safe to say that it will make the region more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
Climate change caused 2002 ice shelf collapse
The Larsen C ice shelf, named for a Norwegian whaling vessel captain who sailed the Southern Sea in the late 1800s, has two smaller northern neighbors known as Larsen A and Larsen B—both of which collapsed in the past 23 years.
Those events taught us that ice sheets, landscapes we used to think of as stable and slow to change, can actually transform rapidly.
The Larsen B collapse was particularly dramatic, with nearly the entire ice shelf disintegrating during a three-week period in 2002 after remaining stable for at least 10,000 years.
The speed of that event was unprecedented and attributed directly to increasing atmospheric warming, although rising ocean temperatures and long-term ice loss from surrounding glaciers may also have played a role.
A hint of what's to come?
After the Larsen B shelf collapse, researchers observed dramatic increases in glacier speed, thinning and ice transfer to the ocean.
Some researchers are already drawing parallels between this week's Larsen C collapse and the series of events that led to the eventual collapse of Larsen B. The latter experienced a similar large calving event in 1995 that foreshadowed further retreat and widespread disintegration in 2002.
While it remains to be seen if and when Larsen C will meet the same fate, warning signs are already in place. What's happening to the Larsen ice shelves could, in fact, be a proxy for what's to come across even larger sections of the Antarctic ice sheet unless we take action to slow warming.
The iceberg, which will likely be dubbed A68, weighs more than a trillion tonnes, has a volume twice that of Lake Erie, and is about 5,800 square kilometers in size—roughly the size of Delaware.
According to Project MIDAS, the UK-based Antarctic researchers observing the ice shelf, the calving occurred sometime between Monday and Wednesday.
The landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula has been "changed forever," the researchers said. The calving leaves the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent, its smallest size ever recorded.
The widening crack had been developing over the past year. Project MIDAS said last week that the massive iceberg was hanging onto the main shelf by just a 3-mile thread. "Multiple rift tips" had also formed, meaning a number of smaller icebergs could also splinter off.
"We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice. We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg," Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University and lead investigator of the project said.
"The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict. It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters," Luckman added.
The new configuration of Larsen C could potentially make it less stable. There's a chance it could follow the example of its neighbor, Larsen B, which rapidly broke apart in 2002 after a similar rift-induced calving event in 1995, the researchers said.
"In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse—opinions in the scientific community are divided. Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away," Luckman said.
The iceberg will have no immediate impact on sea level since it was already floating before it calved. However, as these ice shelves disintegrate, the land-locked glaciers they hold back may begin sliding into the sea.
"Although this is a natural event, and we're not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position," explained Dr. Martin O'Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team. "This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We're going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable."
By Andy Rowell
Any day now we will truly witness climate change in action. Within days at worst, maybe weeks at best, scientists predict that a huge section of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica will break off into the ocean, in what is called a major "calving" event.
The size of the U.S. state of Delaware or the paradise island of Bali, the iceberg will be one of the biggest ever seen.
Massive Crack in Larsen C Ice Shelf Grew 11 Miles in 6 Days https://t.co/vg7nFZHcNC @MIDASOnIce @climatehawk1 @ClimateReality @NRDC @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1496337007.0
For months, scientists have been watching the growing crack spread some 175 kilometers (approx. 108 miles) along the ice sheet with growing alarm. Now just 13 kilometers (8 miles) remain, keeping this chunk of ice attached to the main ice shelf.
In glacial terms, it is literally hanging by a thread.
"It's keeping us all on tenterhooks," Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey told Reuters earlier this week. "It feels like a niggling tooth" of a child as it comes loose.
According to scientists from Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf: "When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula."
As the scientists pointed out, as the ice-shelf is already floating, an iceberg breaking off does not directly impact sea level rise, although "the ice shelf is holding back land-based glaciers, which have a large sea level potential."
So what should we name this vast new iceberg when it carves? The folks at 350.org have come up with a novel idea: Let's name it #ExxonKnew, because "50 years after learning the truth about climate change, Exxon's climate denial is having increasingly devastating consequences."
350.org outlines that the imminent calving of the vast iceberg is "one of the most dramatic displays of the destruction Exxon and their peers in the fossil fuel industry have unleashed upon the planet. Exxon's climate denial created this iceberg. It should be named after it too."
Ironically, way back in the early sixties, a division of the company that would become Exxon ran a full page ad in Life Magazine bragging about their ability to melt glaciers.
Later that decade, by 1968, a report for the American Petroleum Institute, on which Exxon is a prominent member, warned of the dangers of climate change and the risks to sea level rise if Antarctic glaciers melted.
Nine years later in 1977, Exxon's leaders were told directly by a senior company scientist, James F. Black, about the looming climate crisis. "In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," he told Exxon's Management Committee.
A year later in 1978, one of the most seminal works on Antarctica was published by John Mercer from the Institute of Polar Studies, who concluded: "One of the warning signs that a dangerous warming trend is under way in Antarctica will be the breakup of ice shelves on both coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula, starting with the northernmost and extending gradually southward."
But Exxon ignored the warning signs and tried to discredit the science. Instead of taking responsible action, the company employed a decades-long deceitful and disingenuous climate denial campaign that has been well documented by scholars and activists alike.
The scientists and executives from Exxon deliberately followed the tobacco industry's tactics of sowing doubt about evidence. Exxon set out to exaggerate the uncertainty in the science and twist the facts.
In October 1997, decades after the company was first warned about climate change, the head of Exxon at the time, Lee "Iron Ass" Raymond, delivered a speech to the Fifteenth World Petroleum Congress in China.
As Steve Coll recalled in his book "Private Empire," Raymond "devoted thirty-three paragraphs of his seventy-eight-paragraph speech to the argument that evidence about manmade climate change was an illusion."
Months later, Exxon helped create a task-force working with the American Petroleum Institute: "Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science" and when public "recognition of uncertainty becomes part of "unconventional wisdom." Where Big Tobacco led, Exxon followed in promoting uncertainty.
Between 1998 and 2005, Exxon donated $16 million to numerous right-wing and libertarian think tanks to manufacture uncertainty about climate change.
In 2006, nearly three decades after Exxon was first warned about climate change, the British Royal Society wrote to Exxon asking the company to stop funding organizations which feature information "on their websites that misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change."
But Exxon has continued funding climate denial and Antarctica continues to warm.
The widening crack in Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf has grown even longer. An iceberg the size of Delaware is now precariously hanging on to the main ice shelf by 8 miles of ice.
Scientists with the Antarctic research group Project Midas report that the rift lengthened by another 11 miles between May 25 and May 31 2017—"the largest jump since January" when the crack was 12 miles.
Until recently, the crack was running parallel to the edge of the ice shelf but it took a "significant" turn towards the ocean, "indicating that the time of calving is probably very close," the Project Midas team wrote.
As Project Midas scientist Martin O'Leary explained to Newsweek, "[Until now] the rift has been growing more or less parallel to the ice front, so the amount of ice connecting the berg to the shelf has been more or less constant. However, this time around the rift has curved towards the front, so there's now only 13km [eight miles] remaining."
"The rift has now fully breached the zone of soft 'suture' ice originating at the Cole Peninsula and there appears to be very little to prevent the iceberg from breaking away completely," Project Midas wrote.
After it finally breaks off, the Larsen C ice shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area, leaving the ice front at "its most retreated position ever recorded."
"This event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," the team stated. "We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbor Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 after a similar rift-induced calving event."
Calving events are normal, as NASA explained, but "calving that happens faster than a shelf can re-advance can mean trouble for an ice shelf."
As EcoWatch reported previously, two previous sections of the Larsen ice shelf have broken off and disappeared into the sea. Larsen A collapsed in 1995. Then in 2002, Larsen B began to rapidly 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.
It's unclear if Larsen C will respond in a similar ways. Project Midas is monitoring the development of the rift and will assess its ongoing impact on the ice shelf.
The loss of this portion of the ice shelf will not raise sea levels since 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.
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:
The British Antarctic Survey determined that the crack has expanded by 50 miles since 2011.
"It is particularly hard to predict when it will occur," Adrian Luckman of Project MIDAS told USA TODAY about the eventual calving, which would create a Delaware-sized iceberg. "I am quite surprised as to how long it is holding on!"
"The rift (or crack) has continued to open, and the berg continues to drift outward at a very consistent rate," Luckman added.
However, he noted that the crack has not grown longer in recent weeks.
As EcoWatch mentioned 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.
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."
Temperatures at the Antarctic Peninsula, where the Larsen ice shelf is found, have risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years.
Antarctica's ice shelves are indeed melting rapidly as ocean waters warm. Climate Nexus reported in October that three glaciers in West Antarctica have undergone "intense unbalanced melting," risking their stability and further acceleration of sea level rise.
Research published in Nature Communications found that the Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers in the Amundsen Sea embayment collectively lost about 1,000 feet of ice from 2002 to 2009.
Delaware-Sized Chunk of Ice Could Dislodge from #Antarctic Shelf via @EcoWatch #climate https://t.co/nHjoAThctF— Dan Zukowski (@Dan Zukowski)1472243166.0
"The Larsen C Ice shelf in Antarctica is primed to shed an area of more than 5000 square kilometers [approx. 3,100 square miles] following further substantial rift growth," wrote the Project MIDAS team, which has been studying the ice shelf.
"After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 kilometers [about 11 miles] during the second half of December 2016."
During the last Antarctic winter, the rift averaged about three miles per month of growth. In December, NASA released a set of images that found the crack measured 70 miles in length, 300 feet wide and one-third of a mile deep.
Stunning Photos Show Huge Crack in Antarctic Ice Shelf https://t.co/Pc1i7H0daP @WRIClimate @CarbonFixIt— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481850021.0
The sudden acceleration of the split in the ice has scientists convinced that a massive calving event is imminent.
"If it doesn't go in the next few months, I'll be amazed," Professor Adrian Luckman, project leader from Swansea University, told BBC News.
By itself, the iceberg that is set to break off won't lead to a rise in sea levels, as the ice shelf already floats on the ocean. However, the Larsen ice shelf acts as a buttress against continental glaciers that could then be free to slide into the sea. BBC reports that if all the ice that Larsen C holds back were released into the ocean, global waters would rise by 10 cm, or four inches.
Globally, sea levels have risen about eight inches since 1901. Its effects can be seen in increased flooding in South Florida, coastal erosion in Louisiana, intrusion of seawater into ground aquifers and stronger storm surges such as those seen in Superstorm Sandy.
#Louisiana Faces Faster Levels of Sea-Level Rise Than Any Other Land on Earth https://t.co/zCuAWpcH7U @NRDC @RobertKennedyJr @Waterkeeper— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483558863.0
Long-term satellite observations show that Antarctic glaciers are rapidly retreating. A separate rift in the East Antarctic is forcing a British research station to relocate.
Robert Swan Leads Antarctic Expedition to Show Effects of #ClimateChange http://t.co/OtH32KIJX7 @robertswan2041 http://t.co/UBG4ayYUZs— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1425501873.0
The Larsen C is the latest section of the huge ice shelf to break off. 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.
When the Larsen C ice shelf breaks off, it "will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," said the U.K.-based Project MIDAS team.
An 80-mile long crack in the Larsen C ice shelf threatens to dislodge a chunk of ice measuring about 2,300 square miles, nearly the size of Delaware and twice the size of the massive Larsen B ice shelf collapse in 2002.
As the long Southern Hemisphere polar night is ending, satellites have been able to see that the rift has grown nearly 14 miles, or about three miles per month, since it was last observed in March 2016. The fracture in the ice has also widened from 200 meters (656 feet) to about 350 meters, or 1,148 feet. According to Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project, "As this rift continues to extend, it will eventually cause a large section of the ice shelf to break away as an iceberg."
The rift is likely to lead to an iceberg breaking off, which will remove about 10% of the ice shelf’s area https://t.co/uu1KKWG0WP— Project MIDAS (@Project MIDAS)1471526142.0
Researchers who have reviewed satellite imagery dating back to 1963 have determined that destabilization of the Larsen B ice shelf was already underway at that time, and began accelerating in more recent decades. Prior to that, it had been stable for 12,000 years. Between January and April of 2002, the ice shelf began to break apart, eventually losing a 1,235 square mile area into the sea. At that time, it was the largest collapse ever seen.
Antarctic ice shelves, which ride atop ocean waters, ring the continent and hold back land-based glaciers. The most vulnerable regions are in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice shelves in this region protect a very large portion of glacial ice. The Earth's crust jumped upward following the collapse of Larsen B. Sensitive GPS instrumentation around the ice shelf show that tectonic uplift is now 1.8 centimeters per year as the disappearance of glaciers allows the Earth below to rebound.
However, some of the ice in the shelves is considered "passive" by scientists, in that it doesn't play any role in buttressing glaciers. Some scientists think this may be the case with the Larsen C ice shelf.
The most recent event was the disintegration of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in 2009, the tenth major ice shelf collapse in modern times. Scientists cannot predict the timing of the Larsen C collapse, but say it could happen in the next two to three years. A study published in 2015 showed that Larsen C is rapidly thinning, having lost four meters, or 13 feet, between 1998 and 2012. As the ice thins, it is susceptible to melting from underneath.
Of itself, 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.
Warmer air temperatures were blamed for the collapse of Larsen B. By melting the top layer, pools of meltwater form and seep through crevasses causing fracturing of the ice. This process is now being seen on the Langhovde Glacier in East Antarctica, on the opposite side of the continent from the Larsen ice shelf.
Temperatures at the Antarctic Peninsula, where the Larsen ice shelf is found, have risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years. On March 24, 2015, a record high of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded on the peninsula at Esperanza Base.