A new study by NASA indicates that the last untouched section of one of the mammoth ice shelves in Antarctica is very unstable and it will most likely disintegrate by the end of the decade. This will further increase the rising levels of the sea.
The scientists analyzed the remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf which partially collapsed in 2002. The ice shelf has existed for at least 10.000 years. The remnant now covers almost 1,600 square km (625 square miles) which is the equivalent of half the size of Rhode Island.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of California and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. If the researcher’s findings prove to be true it means that next year Antarctica will face one or even more large ice calving events.
The lead author of the study, Ala Khazendar of NASA, said that it may be fascinating as a scientist to just sit and watch how the ice shelf becomes unstable and starts breaking up, but it is very bag for the planet.
Larsen B is situated in the Antarctic Peninsula which reaches the southern tip of South America and is one of the two main areas where researchers have documented how such ice formations turn thinner. The researchers used measurements from satellites and planes to determine the weakness of Larsen B. The problems which they identified were a quicker flow of ice into the sea and a major crack growing across the remnants of the ice shelf.
Co-author of the study, Eric Rignot of NASA, remarked:
“This study of the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers provides insights about how ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate.”
According to the study once Larsen B is broken apart the glaciers which are held in place by the ice shelf will slip into the ocean faster than usual and will contribute to the rising sea levels. This is very worrying for low lying areas across the globe.
The researchers also found out that in past few years two principal tributary glaciers of Larsen B, Flask and Leppard, have thinned by 20 to 20 meter, which means between 65 and 72 feet. Moreover right after 2002, when the ice shelf partially collapsed the pace at which the glaciers shrank has accelerated.
Image Source: nsidc.com