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A chunk of ice that's half the length of Prince Edward Island is about break off from a major ice shelf in Antarctica.
SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT

A massive chunk of Antarctic ice is about to break off


Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Sunday, January 8, 2017, 11:57 AM - A chunk of ice that's half the length of Prince Edward Island is about break off from a major ice shelf in Antarctica.

Following the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995, and the break-up of Larsen B in 2002, scientists have been monitoring the 91-metre wide rift in Larsen C with some apprehension.

That apprehension was soon validated. Researchers at the UK-based Project Midas found that the Larsen C rift had grown significantly during the Antarctic polar night (when night lasts more than 24 hours.) In August 2016, the rift was 22 km longer than the measurements from March of the same year, and in December, the rift expanded an additional 18 km within a few weeks' time.


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Due to this acceleration in the rift's expansion, researchers are now saying it may only be a few months' time until the the slab of ice breaks off completely.

Image Credit: A. Luckman/Swansea University

In November 2016, scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission measured the Larsen C fracture to be roughly 113 km in length and just over half a kiolmetre in depth.

"The crack completely cuts through the ice shelf but it does not go all the way across it," NASA said in a statement. "[O]nce it does, it will produce an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware." This iceberg is expected to be one of the 10 largest in recorded history.


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Ice shelves are a floating sheet of ice that are connected to a landmass, and many of the world's ice shelves are along Antarctica's coastline. According to NASA, when ice shelves collapse, ice behind the shelves accelerate toward the ocean, consequently adding to rising sea levels.

Antarctic glaciers shown on a map. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The crack in Larsen C cuts completely through the ice shelf, but it doesn't span all the way across it. After December's accelerating break-off, a scant 20-km stretch of ice is all that binds the inevitable iceberg.

Once the crack stretches the final 20 km distance, the slab of ice will be roughly the size of the U.S. state of Delaware.

Images taken by scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission in November 2016 show the length of the rift. Image Credit: NASA/John Sonntag

Images taken by scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission in November 2016 show the length of the rift. Image Credit: NASA/John Sonntag

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