Water levels are rising much faster than previously predicted. The Larsen C ice shelf on Antarctica has been thinning out, according to research from The British Antarctic Survey and a publication from The Cryosphere. After decades of research trying to determine why the ice shelves in Antarctica have been melting so quickly, the mystery has been solved.
Satellite data and radar technology were combined to figure out if the means were global warming or the warming ocean currents. It was discovered that the Larsen C ice shelf had been losing four metres of ice per year from the two factors combined.
“What’s exciting is we now know two different processes are causing Larsen C to thin and become less stable. Air is being lost from the top layer of snow (called the firn), which is becoming more compacted — probably because of increased melting by a warmer atmosphere. We know also that Larsen C is losing ice,” said Dr. Paul Holland, lead author from the British Antarctic Survey,
“If this vast ice shelf — which is over two and a half times the size of Wales and 10 times bigger than Larsen B — was to collapse, it would allow the tributary glaciers behind it to flow faster into the sea.”
Thinning out from both above and below, the Larsen C shelf is predicted to collapse within a few years. It was uncertain whether it would be a sudden crack and split from the mainland, or a gradual melt. This isn’t the first Antarctic shelf to collapse — Larsen A collapsed in 1998 and Larsen B collapsed in 2002.
“When Larsen A and B were lost, the glaciers behind them accelerated and are now contributing a significant fraction of the sea-level… Larsen C is bigger and if it were to be lost in the next few decades then it would actually add to the projections of sea-level rise by 2100,” said Professor David Vaughan, glaciologist and Director of Science at the British Antarctic Survey, “We expect that sea-level rise around the world will be something in excess of 50 cm higher by 2100.”
The Larsen C ice shelf is roughly 50,000 km2 — roughly between the size of Wales and Scotland. The ice shelf itself is not the biggest contributor to the rising sea levels, but rather the ice and glaciers that will break off from it.
The Antarctic Peninsula has been rising in temperature by 2.5°C (36.5°F) each year due to global warming. The trend of global warming has been a huge concern for various scientific groups and environmentalists, due to the destruction it will have for low-lying land and cities. Floridian cities in particular are having a difficult time coping with the rising ocean levels.
The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the UK and the National Science Foundation in the US, with many other contributors world wide. Scientists conducting research were from the University of Colorado, the British Antarctic Survey, the United States Geological Council, University of Kansas and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.