NASA scientists this week predicted the last remnants of the giant Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica will disappear completely by the end of this decade. Situated off the southern tip of Chile on the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea, the 10,000 year old ice shelf has been studied closely since a gigantic iceberg as large as the Greater London area broke off in 2002. In that event, two-thirds of the shelf collapsed in just six weeks.
In what has been dubbed The Final Act for Larsen B, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory predict that the remainder of the ice shelf is just five years away from a complete melt down and disingetration. A warming climate means that what is left is cracking and will fragment into small blocks of ice and fall in to the seas around the Antarctic as soon as 2020.
Ice-shelves act like corks in a bottle, keeping back the land-based glaciers on the Antarctic continent. The glacial formations kept in check by the Larsen B ice shelf will accelerate in their journey towards the sea, increasing the speed of ice melt on the continental ice sheet and contributing to sea-level rise across the planet. The 14m sq km Antarctic contains the largest single mass of ice on Earth.
JPL glaciologist Eric Rignot, one of the co-authors on the study, says that the demise of the Larsen B ice shelf gives insights into how the land ice further south will react to the warming climate.
In the video below from earlier this year, Rignot compares the current increased rate of glacial melting in the region to “changing the speed limit on the freeway from 50mph to 550mph”. Even as he speaks to the reporter, a large chunk of the glacier they are standing in front of disintegrates with a loud noise.
The disappearance of the Larsen B ice shelf is more evidence of rising temperatures in the climate system. It should serve as a very visible wake up call to legislators gathering this December in Paris to take action on reducing carbon emissions.
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Featured Image: Scientists predict that by 2020, all that will be left of the Larsen B ice shelf will be fragments. Pic: NSIDC/Ted Scambos
Map of Larsen B
From the CGV Blog: