Antarctic ice shelf could be gone in just a few years, says NASA

Posted May 16, 2015 by James Walker
A NASA study has found that one of the major remaining ice shelves on Antarctica is melting much faster than previous suggestions. It could be completely gone in just a few years, fuelling sea level rise and making Antarctica a little smaller.
View of the Riiser-Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
View of the Riiser-Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
By Ben Holt – National Aeronautics and Space Administration, via Wikimedia Commons
The ice shelf, Larsen B, has existed for around 10,000 years, according to NDTV. It is one of dozens of such shelves around Antarctica, protruding from the coastline to hang over the sea. The largest is around the size of France.
Larsen B partially collapsed in 2002 and was left at 625 square miles (1,600 square km) in size, around half of Rhode Island. A new study by NASA published on Thursday has found that Larsen B could be just years from total disintegration though.
There is a widening rift in the centre of the ice that looks set to break the entire shelf apart before the year 2020. Two tributary glaciers, named Leppard and Flask, have also thinned by between 65 to 72 feet (20 to 22 metres) in recent years.
NASA believes that Larsen B has now entered the very final phases of its long life. The Washington Post reports that the researchers, led by scientist Ala Khazendar, write in their report: “The final phase of the demise of LBIS [the Larsen B ice shelf] is most likely in progress. The weakening of the remnant ice shelf is manifested by its acceleration, front retreat, enhanced fracture including the rapid widening of a large rift close to the grounding line [where the ice shelf is moored on the seafloor] and possibly the detachment of the stagnant part of the ice shelf from neighboring grounded ice.”
The demise of Larsen B could lead to increased sea level rise. Although the collapse of ice shelves does not directly cause the seas to get larger, without their presence glaciers can flow into the sea more easily and increase the levels.
The report comes just days after British researchers noted that Larsen C — the southernmost region of the Larsen ice shelf — is also at risk of imminent collapse. Scientists have concluded that the melting of the ice is likely to be caused by higher average ocean temperatures or decreased ice mass on Antarctica.