Massive crack in ice shelf set to change landscape of the Antarctic

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The Larsen C ice shelf in the Antarctic is being monitored due to a massive crack running through it. When the crack eventually cuts all the way across the shelf, it will produce one of the world’s biggest icebergs ever, about the size of Delaware. On Thursday, experts announced that over the last six days, the crack grew by 11 miles, leaving only 8 miles remaining until the crack is complete.

A British Antarctic research team, Project MIDAS, has been monitoring the crack. Adrian Luckman, a member of the project, says the full process is known as “calving.” As the crack continues to grow, he says it’s “very close” to complete, this being the largest gain since January.

According to Luckman, when the the iceberg does break off, it “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.” Although it will change the landscape, the newly created iceberg won’t create a rise in sea levels because the ice is already floating.

The majority of the world’s ice shelves are attached to the coast of Antarctica, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. They define ice shelves as “permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass.”

Ice shelves are important, however, because they “hold back the glaciers that ‘feed’ them,” Luckman said. “When they disappear, ice can flow faster from the land to the ocean and contribute more quickly to sea-level rise.”

For example, about 15 years ago, nearby Larsen B ice shelf broke apart in dramatic fashion.  After the break, glaciers behind it accelerated in number and are still flowing faster than before.

Project MIDAS points out that the calving of the Larsen C ice shelf is not linked to climate change, but some fear that ocean warming and atmospheric temperatures may have factored into disintegrations of ice shelves elsewhere on the Antarctic Peninsula.

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