NASA scientists have photographed a massive crack in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica last month. The crack is around 113 kilometers (70 miles) long, over 90 meters (300 feet) wide, and 0.5 kilometers (0.3 miles) deep, Operation IceBridge said. The part close to breaking off is reportedly “roughly the size of the state of Delaware.”
Ice shelves like Larsen C are the floating sheets of ice that are permanently attached to Antarctica’s landmass. These act as a “crucial support for the polar ice cap.”
Most ice in Antarctica is on land, as opposed to floating on water. Without these ice shelves, the ice would plummet into the ocean and melt.
This is similar to a crack that was found on the Larsen B ice shelf over in 2000. In 2002, the crack had caused Larsen B to “separate and disintegrate”, after remaining unchanged for almost 12,000 years. Larsen C is expected to break off in the same way, which would make it the largest event since the Larsen B separation.
Although this may not create an immediate rise in sea levels, it may cause sea levels to rise 10 feet within the next 100 years, not many generations ahead. This amount would cause flooding in major coastal areas around the world, including New York and Miami.
According to a study from Ohio State University, focusing on a glacier in West Antarctica, the ice shelves have been breaking from the inside out, as a result of the warming waters of the ocean destabilizing the ice sheets. If this continues, sea levels are most likely going to rise.
“This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see a significant collapse in our lifetime,” said Ian Howat, the Associate professor of Earth Science department at the university.