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The Larsen Ice Shelf is breaking apart, shelf by shelf.

The Larsen Ice Shelf is breaking apart, shelf by shelf.


The Inertia

Remember back in 2002 when a massive chunk of the Larsen Antarctic ice shelf broke off? Well, NASA scientists just found a very, very big crack in Larsen C, the last complete part of the shelf. Measuring in at just over 70 miles long and 300 feet wide, the rift extends downwards about half a mile.

The Larsen ice shelf is/was comprised of three parts: Larsen A, Larsen B, and Larsen C. Larsen A, the smallest of the three, collapsed in ’95. Shortly after, in 2002, Larsen B began to fall apart, and researchers began to panic a little. And now Larsen C is going the way of the dodo, as well. NASA researchers are in full panic mode… but not for long,

NASA researchers won’t have to be worried for long, though, because Trump is pulling their climate research funding and putting it into deep space exploration, instead. Which makes total sense, because what’s the point in researching our own planet and the possible effects of spewing billions of tons of toxic shit into the atmosphere? Deep space exploration sounds way cooler, and Armageddon was such a good movie. “Ben Affleck was terrific,” Donald didn’t say. “Nobody knows Ben better than me, and mark my words, Ben is a terrific, terrific actor. We need to make sure he doesn’t go through that again. We’ll make the asteroid pay.”

Let’s go back to Larsen B for a second because it’s basically part of Larsen C, and Larsen A wasn’t as much of a big deal. In 2002, the majority of it collapsed. As you may know, ice shelves are parts of glaciers that are floating. While most of the ice in Antarctica is on land–continental ice–the ice shelves that extend into the ocean play a crucial role in keeping it there. Without them, continental ice slides into the ocean and melts.

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Prior to 2002, Larsen B hadn’t changed in about 12,000 years. Then, over the course of three months, a vast piece the size of Rhode Island disintegrated into the sea. When that happened, the floodgates opened in a literal sense. Without Larsen B, tributary glacial flow and glacial melt sped up exponentially, so things really began to fall apart. Researchers are now predicting that it’ll be entirely gone by the end of the decade. “These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” said Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “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. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”

Alright, so now you’re caught up. By now, you’re either a little worried about something that every respected scientist on earth agrees on, or you’re a Trump supporter and you’re drunk on a porch shooting your semi-auto at squirrels screaming “EAT LEAD, YOU LIBTARDED SQUIRREL!” Which actually sounds pretty fun, and ignorance is bliss, right?

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Let’s get back to Larsen C, the last remaining fully formed slab of the Larsen ice shelf.  That giant rift I told you about was photographed by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a six-year mission that is the “largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown. It will yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. These flights will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland and Antarctic ice.”

On Nov. 10, 2016, scientists on NASA's IceBridge mission photographed an oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf. Photo: NASA

On Nov. 10, 2016, scientists on NASA’s IceBridge mission photographed an oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf. Photo: NASA

Larsen C is about the size of Scotland, and about 1,000 feet thick. According to a British Antarctic survey, if the whole thing breaks off at the crack, a rapidly melting ice island about the size of Delaware would be floating around in the Southern Ocean.

Calving, though, is a natural part of the glacial cycle. Think of it like a fingernail–as the shelves are fed by ice and streams from the back, the front moves farther into the ocean until it breaks off. Right now, the crack NASA found hasn’t made its way all the way across Larsen C.

The strange part about the Larsen ice shelf, though, isn’t the fact that there’s a crack, it’s the speed at which it’s happening. And it is alarming, to say the least. Climate change arguments aside, it’s been proven time and time again that the earth is warming, the ice caps are melting, and the sea level is rising. And yes, the planet does indeed go through natural phases of warming and cooling. At this point in time, though, it’s changing much faster than we’re prepared for and it’s affecting our lives. So can’t we all just be a little worried, even if we don’t agree on what’s causing it?

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