Larsen C Ice Shelf poised to calve, fundamentally changing the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula

The current location of the rift on Larsen C, as of January 2017. Labels highlight significant jumps. Tip positions are derived from Landsat (USGS) and Sentinel-1 InSAR (ESA) data. Background image blends BEDMAP2 Elevation (BAS) with MODIS MOA2009 Image mosaic (NSIDC). Other data from SCAR ADD and OSM.

Jan. 5, 2017 – The Larsen C Ice shelf in Antarctica is primed to shed an area of more than 5000 sq. km following further substantial rift growth. After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20 km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.

When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event.

For more details, see the coverage of this event at the BBC.

The MIDAS Project will continue to monitor the development of the rift and assess its ongoing impact on the ice shelf.

Project MIDAS is a UK-based Antarctic research project, investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf in West Antarctica. Recent warming has caused large melt ponds to form on Larsen C during summer, which are changing the structure of the ice. The effects of this on the future of the ice shelf are still unknown.

We are studying these effects through a mixture of fieldwork, satellite observation and computer simulations of the ice shelf and its climate.

Project MIDAS is based at Swansea University and Aberystwyth University in Wales, with support from the British Antarctic Survey and a variety of partners both in the UK and internationally. The project is funded by the National Environment Research Council.