Antarctica's Massive Crack Is Growing At A Worrying Rate


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 23 2016, 17:24 UTC
Satellite Imagery Of The Larsen Ice Shelf After Larsen B splintered off in 2002. NASA

A satellite image taken after Larsen B cracked off in 2002. NASA

On the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula lies the Larsen Ice Shelf. It has suffered two major disintegration events in the past two decades. Recently, scientists keeping their eye on a new threatening crack are noticing a troublesome trend.


Concerns about this Larsen C fracture are nothing new. In March, it was reported the rift was growing and could thaw off at a moment’s notice. But now, the Antarctic researchers from Project MIDAS have noted the crack has grown at an alarming rate in just the past few months.

In a recent blog post, the UK-based collective of scientists and geographers stated: “As of August 2016, the rift is now 22km longer than when satellites were last able to observe it in March of this year.”


A study published in the journal Nature in 2014 used computer modeling to find that the Larsen C ice shelf is becoming unstable and could ultimately collapse. Scientists aren’t sure when this could be, but judging by the gaining length of the crack, that day is coming closer and closer.

The Larsen A ice shelf split off and crumbled in January 1995. Larsen B was lost in 2002. Larsen C is by far the biggest of these, covering an area of 55,000 square kilometers (21,235 square miles) – that’s around double the size of Hawaii. If this crack does spell its demise, it will cause the third-largest ice calving event ever recorded.


"If the ice breaks far enough back, it will destabilize the ice shelf, but exactly where that threshold is, we don't know. Our computer modeling indicates that this rift is definitely starting to enter the right ballpark though," Martin O'Leary, a MIDAS researcher from Swansea University, told Mashable.

"The ice shelf loses icebergs like this naturally every few decades, but we're concerned that this one might extend far enough back that it breaks the ‘compressive arch’ which is holding the ice shelf in place," O’Leary added.

A graph showing the increasing rate of the rift's extension. MIDAS project

  • ice,

  • antarctica,

  • environment,

  • Larsen C,

  • ice shelf,

  • rising temperatures,

  • Larsen Ice Shelf,

  • calving