Why We Should be Concerned with the 110-mile Long Ice Crack in Antarctica.

Hi everyone, I know I haven’t really written much ever since I graduated college but I have been trying to figure this whole adult thing out and it has not left me much time to write about topics that interest me. I realized I missed writing too much to stay away for long so be expecting more interesting write-ups about issues within our environment that I feel are worth sharing to all of you, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy! -MR

 

I am willing to bet that 99% of people who live outside of the United States have never heard of the state of Delaware let alone know how small the state is in comparison to other states within the U.S. Statistically speaking, the state has an area of nearly 2,500 square miles. Now, imagine going on an Antarctic Cruise with your family on a fantastic vacation through the seas and seeing an iceberg roughly the size of the entire state of Delaware floating your way. Sounds pretty crazy right? Believe it or not, what seemed to be impossible a few years ago is soon to become a reality. An ice shelf spanning over 2,000 square miles, known as Larsen C, is now a mere 10 miles away from becoming the largest iceberg the world has yet to witness.Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.36.05 PM

Larsen C, an ice shelf off the North Western tail of Antarctica, has been experiencing a phenomenon over the past few months and it has been a hot topic within the scientific and political worlds. The crack itself has now reached a length of over 120 miles and at certain points spanning more than 1,000 feet across. Larsen C will lose about 10% of it’s overall land mass once the crack has reached the coast and experts worry that this will result in the entire ice shelf becoming unstable. Basically, an ice shelf ‘floats’ on top of water but is large enough to connect to landmasses, which in turn slows down glacial movement. Once an ice shelf disappears from a landmass, glaciers are free to dump ice into the ocean rather than adding to the ice shelf that could result in rising sea levels.

So why care, why should we care that there will be another iceberg in a part of the ocean that we rarely visit? There is a process that takes place within our Earth known as a positive feedback loop. Positive feedback loops enhance or amplify changes in an environment, ultimately resulting in that environment to become more and more unstable as the feedback loop occurs.

Why I bring this up is to explain why having this massive iceberg floating into warmer waters is an issue on a larger scale. Most people think the following logic: melting ice = rising ocean levels due to more water being in the ocean. In reality, you aren’t completely wrong but the water levels rise due to a slightly different reason. Think about it… if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it and the ice melts, the water level in your glass is going to stay the same. This is due to there really not being more or less water in the glass, once the ice cube melts it take up just as much space in your glass as it did when it was in a solid state.Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.44.18 PM

So what does this mean on a larger scale? Ice reflects the sun; water on the other hand absorbs the sun’s energy. When you have less ice and more water, the ocean will absorb more energy while less will be reflected back into the sky by ice sheets. This ultimately results in the ocean heating up, melting more ice, absorbing more energy, heating up, melting ice, etc., etc. Make sense? As if that seems bad enough, there is still more to this issue. As water temperatures rise the ocean becomes more acidic in general resulting in the actual atomic structure of water to spread out which, on a small scale is not too big of a deal, but within an entire ocean? Means big, big trouble.

Now, back to Antarctica. This is not the first time that we have seen a crack like this occur. In 1995 an iceberg broke off of the Larsen A ice shelf and again in 2002 Larsen B experienced a similar event. The alarming difference in what is currently taking place is not only the size of the potential iceberg, but also the speed at which the crack is growing. Since January of 2017 the crack has been growing at an accelerating rate; from May 25th-31st it grew another 11 miles closer to the coastline… 11 miles in a week and is now less than ten miles from completely breaking off into the Atlantic Ocean.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.46.18 PM
Source

How large will this iceberg be compared to the one that broke off from Larsen B in 2002? Well, the Larsen B break-off was roughly 50 square miles in size, the iceberg about to break off of Larsen C has an area of about 2,000 square miles, nearly 40 times the size of what was once considered to be a fairly large piece to break off of these ice shelves back in 2002.

The one big question on everyone’s mind; is this just a natural occurrence that we as humans are seeing for the first time? Or is it something bigger? Have we as a human race caused this to happen with our ever-warming global temperatures and release of toxic materials into our environment? That is the question that has scientist looking for more answers and politicians debating whether or not to accept the fact that we are the cause of this monumental event. Personally I think it is hard to see past the fact that we may have had our hand in expediting the cracks growth, as it is the fastest moving crack in that region that we have ever monitored. Although there is no hard evidence yet to prove that our interaction with our home planet has had any direct relation to what is happening in Antarctica but, one can only speculate. Our only hope is that the rest of the ice shelf, Larsen C, stays stable and in tact once the iceberg finally breaks off and floats away into the ocean. As mentioned before, experts worry that an ice shelf losing a section of this size could lead to the whole sheet becoming very unstable and breaking up at an accelerated rate resulting in glaciers to move directly into the ocean rather than onto the ice shelf from the mainland which could mean multiple issues for the environment. The most prevalent issue being rising sea levels (more ice dumped into the ocean = higher sea levels) could have the most immediate impact if the ice shelf breaks up entirely. Only time will tell, but as for now all we as humans can do is monitor the activity and let Mother Nature do her thing.

 

Sources:

https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-05-05/theres-new-branch-huge-antarctic-ice-crack

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/sciencefair/2017/06/01/massive-iceberg-break-off-antarctica-crack-expands-11-miles/102385980/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/02/a-new-crack-in-one-of-antarcticas-biggest-ice-shelves-could-mean-a-major-break-is-near/?utm_term=.14e4a76583cc

http://www.newsweek.com/nasa-ice-shelf-crack-iceberg-images-petermann-glacier-585396

https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2017/06/06/yes-a-1000-foot-thick-delaware-sized-piece-of-antarctica-could-break-off-within-weeks/#37e768201e08

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/07/05/an-iceberg-the-size-of-delaware-is-about-to-break-off-of-antarctica/?utm_term=.7ea8353da71d

http://www.dw.com/en/antarctica-larsen-c-breakoff-could-have-dire-consequences/a-39489181

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/huge-crack-arctic-shelf-getting-10544877

 

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