According to a NASA report released Thursday, a 10,000-year-old ice shelf in Antarctica is shattering at an alarming rate and is likely to be gone by the end of this decade. NASA scientists said that what’s left of Larsen B Ice Shelf is melting at an accelerated pace and currently displays more large cracks than it did in 2002 when it first collapsed.
Researchers also reported that two nearby glaciers are also losing mass faster. Ala Khazendar, the research team leader, argues that the large crack and fragmentation are warning signs that the ice shelf would soon disappear.
“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet,”
He explained that Antarctica’s ice shelves have the function of “gatekeepers” for glaciers because they prevent the latter from entering too fast into ocean and melting at an accelerated rate. Without ice shelves, global sea level rises faster than it should, the researcher said.
NASA scientists published their study on Larsen B Ice Shelf’s current status and the nearby glaciers in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
The research team was able to assess the thinning rate of the ice shelf by analyzing NASA’s data on bedrock structure and ice surface elevations. They were also able to calculate the flow speed from data gathered by NASA’s satellites that use radar technology to map the ground for nearly two decades.
Scientists expect that a very wide rift that recently formed at the base of the ice shelf would soon crack across. As a result, the ice shelf would start its drift in the ocean and shatter even more into smaller icebergs. Moreover, the two glaciers that were held back by Larsen B would be free to reach the ocean at an even more accelerated speed.
Larsen B’s leftover part is 625-square-mile-wide and nearly 1,640-foot-thick. NASA scientists were surprised to learn how fast changes were occurring within the ice shelf. They described changes as “relentless.”
Soon after the 2002 collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf, the nearby glaciers remained stable, but since that point they thinned by up to 72 feet and increased their flowing speeds by 36 percent. Scientists compared the annual acceleration to a moving vehicle that accelerates from 55 mph to 75 mph.
Yet, there are some glaciers that accelerated their speeds eightfold just like a car which accelerates from 55 mph to more than 400 mph, scientists warn.
Image Source: NY Times
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