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Independent Education • Spring 17 55 Massive iceberg calves: will it affect our lives?

| September 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

Mankind had better study the coldest reaches of the planet before a serious event changes them forever. In Antarctica, one of the biggest icebergs ever discovered has very recently broken away from the Larsen C ice shelf. The breakaway process is called calving. The iceberg is a fascinating phenomenon: this one, dubbed A68, weighs more than a trillion tonnes and is about 5 800 square kilometres in size.

The calving incident, which happened in July 2017, was witnessed by researchers from Project Midas, a UK-based organisation that keeps team members in the Antarctic Peninsula. Project Midas has described the breakaway as a spectacular and enormous geographical event that has changed the landscape. More calving could occur, it added. “The iceberg is one of the largest recorded, and its future progress is difficult to predict. It may remain in one piece, but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters,” said a Project Midas team member.

Project Midas researchers have allayed fears that A68 could affect rising sea levels. Said Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team, “The iceberg will have no immediate impact on sea level since it was already floating before it calved. “Although we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the Larsen C ice shelf in a very vulnerable position.

We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.” Not all scientists agree that the Larsen C incident is not a huge cause for concern. Eric Rignot, professor of Earth systems sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a senior research scientist at the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Washington DC, has publicly stated: This break-up signals that the ice shelf got too thin. It got thinner because climate has been warming, over decades; the ice shelf will eventually collapse in the coming decades.

This is absolutely related to climate warming. The ice shelf front has not calved this far back in 125 years (first seen by Carl Larsen in 1893) and Larsen C is on a course to collapse, very reminiscent of what happened to Larsen B in 2002. This is yet another wake-up call that Antarctica is on the rise and we should be concerned about what that means for future sea levels.

Category: Spring 2017

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