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Consequences of Climate Change: Why the New Rift in Antarctica's Ice Shelf Is Bad News

May 03, 2017 11:26 AM EDT
Antarctic Territory
Polynyas are areas of open water surrounded by sea ice. It has strong winds known as "kabatic winds" that produce as much as 10 times as much sea ice as usual.
(Photo : Torsten Blackwood - Pool/Getty Images)

Researchers from UK's Project Midas and Swansea University discovered a second branch that split off from the main rift of Larsen C, potentially fast-tracking the breaking of the ice shelf to create the biggest iceberg in the world.

According to a report from Swansea University -- who leads the Project Midas -- this new branch is 10 kilometers behind the previous tip and is currently moving in the direction of the ice front. Larsen C's main rift is already 180 kilometers long, but this new one was already recorded at 15 kilometers adding more instability to the already precarious shelf.

While the rift has actually been stable at its current length for a few months, the gap has been growing wider and wider at over one meter every day. Losing a huge chunk of the ice shelf will make it more likely for it to disintegration in the future. Now, only 20 kilometers of ice is keeping a 5,000 square kilometer block of ice from breaking off and floating away.

"When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% 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," Swansea University College of Science professor and Project Midas head Adrian Luckman explained in a statement.

Larsen C is located at the edge of West Antarctica, acting as a barrier to keep the flow of glaciers feeding into it. Its disintegration could unleash enough ice to boost sea levels by up to one centimeter, according to a report from Press Herald.

Climate change plays a role in the cracked ice shelf with the warmer air and water in the region. However, recent research also revealed that föhn winds -- warm, dry winds blowing downhill on the leeward side of a mountain range -- as a major contributor in weakening the ice shelves, particularly Larsen C, UPI reported.

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