Glaciers and ice shelves in Antarctica are taking a turn from bad to worse. The latest to be affected by global warming is the quickly shrinking Larsen B, an ice shelf that partially collapsed more than 10 yearn ago.
Larsen B is at least 10.000 years old and lost most of its former self when it collapsed for the first time, way back in 2002. It currently has 625 square miles (1,600 square km) left and keeps shrinking at an alarming rate. It has a thickness of 1,640 feet (500 meters).
A study published earlier this week and led by Ala Khazendar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), found that the ice shelf is flowing faster than ever before, developing large cracks and becoming increasingly splintered. The researchers had no choice but to conclude that the end is near for Larsen B – “it is likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade”.
Khazendar went on to say that scientifically speaking it’s fascinating to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, but this spells seriously bad news for our planet and the state that it’s currently in.
He estimated that Larsen B will break apart completely somewhere around 2020 due to a huge, widening rift that has formed near the ice shelf’s grounding line and will inevitably spread all the way across. Whatever is left, will then shatter into hundreds of icebergs that would drift away from one and other.
It’s yet another example of ice loss in Antarctica that’s hurting our planet. The most alarming thing is that by losing Larsen B, Larson C (another recent victim) and other ice shelves in the region, glacial ice will enter the ocean even faster and accelerate the pace of the already increasing sea levels. As usual, most scientists blame global warming and the excessive amounts of greenhouse gases.
Larsen B’s location is also important as the ice shelf can be found in the Arctic Peninsula, one the fastest warming regions on the planet. It has a temperature that rose by 2.5 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years, it extends toward the southern tip of South America, and is one of the main regions on the continent where scientists have observed the thinning of massive ice formations.
Eric Rignot, co-author of the study and a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained that by studying the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers scientists are provided with insights about “how ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate”.
For the study, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Khazendar and his colleagues collected data on the ice surface elevations and bedrock depths by studying measurements from planes and satellites over the course of multiple years.
About 200 countries have agreed to negotiate a United Nations pact by the end of the year in an attempt to combat global climate change. If nothing is done to improve the state of the planet, most scientists agree that global warming will bring about more flooding, droughts, heat waves and higher seas in the upcoming years.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said with a certainty of 95 percent that the accelerate warming of the Earth has been triggered by human activities, with the worst one being emission of greenhouse gases.
Image Source: nasa.gov