Rift, then drift


When the crack grows all the way across the ice shelf, it will produce an iceberg the size of Delaware.


NASA / John Sonntag

On 10 November, scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission photographed an oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf. Icebridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, completed an eighth consecutive Antarctic deployment on 18 November.

Ice shelves are the floating parts of ice streams and glaciers, and they buttress the grounded ice behind them; when ice shelves collapse, the ice behind accelerates toward the ocean, where it then adds to sea level rise. Larsen C neighbours a smaller ice shelf that disintegrated in 2002 after developing a rift similar to the one now growing in Larsen C.

The IceBridge scientists measured the Larsen C fracture to be about 110 kilometres long, more than 100 metres wide and about half a kilometre deep.

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