Second rift in ice shelf worries scientists

This image, from the British Antarctic Survey, shows the first rift.
This image, from the British Antarctic Survey, shows the first rift.
Scientists are watching the development of a second rift in an Antarctic ice shelf.

    And while most humans will never visit Antarctica, the developments in this floating ice shelf could have far-ranging impact.
    On May 1, researchers noticed a change in the Larsen C ice shelf. “While the previous rift tip has not advanced, a new branch of the rift has been initiated about 10 kilometers (6 miles) behind the previous tip, heading towards the ice-front. This is the first significant change to the rift since February of this year,” they wrote on the website for MIDAS, a U.K.-based Antarctic research project investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf.
    The researchers are watching the ice shelf using images from a European Space Agency satellite. While the first rift’s length has been static, they wrote, the width is expanding at “rates in excess of a meter per day.”
    The researchers predict that the ice shelf will lose 10 percent of its area when it calves – or splits.  
    Another branch of the ice shelf – Larsen B – disintegrated in 2002. And since 1995, the ice shelf has lost more than 75 percent of its former area, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s website.
    Antarctica’s population is no more than a few thousand in the summer and a couple hundred in the winter, according to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy. But the developments on the Larsen Ice Shelf are significant for the planet -- and could ultimately contribute to sea level rise. (See the video by the British Antarctic Society below.)


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