AN ENORMOUS iceberg looks twice the size of New York City is set to break away from an Antarctic ice shelf, Nasa has warned.
Cracks are quickly spreading across the Brunt Ice Shelf, with the main rift “accelerating northward as fast as 4km per year”.
NASA A huge crack is spreading across the Brunt Ice Shelf
NASA The rift didn’t exist in 1986, as seen in this image
Nasa has been tracking the cracks on the shelf using Landsat satellites.
An early image taken in 1986 shows very minimal cracking, but more recent images taken in the last few years show significant breakages in the ice.
The rift along the top of the latest January 23 image is known as the “Halloween crack”, because it first appeared in October 2016.
Since then, it’s continued to grow eastward from an area called the McDonald Ice Rumples, which are crumpled ice that has flown over an underwater formation of bedrock.
NASA Scientists fear the rift will join up with another chasm in the north, splitting off an enormous iceberg from the main shelf
The Ice Shelf is located in a key area of research for Antarctic scientists
But there’s another rift that has Nasa even more worried.
The latest image shows a huge crack rising north across the Brunt Ice Shelf.
Nasa says this area was stable for about 35 years, but is now quickly accelerating by up to 4km a year.
The rift is now within a few kilometres of the McDonald Ice Rumples and the Halloween crack.
And when it finally cuts all the way across, the Brunt Ice Shelf will lose around 1700 square kilometres of ice.
This isn’t enormous by Antarctic standards, Nasa explains, but it would be the largest berg to break away from the Brunt Ice Shelf since observations began in 1915.
Nasa is know watching the shelf closely to see if the loss will trigger a bigger break-up.
“The near-term future of Brunt Ice Shelf likely depends on where the existing rifts merge relative to the McDonald Ice Rumples,” said Nasa’s Joe MacGregor.
“If they merge upstream (south) of the McDonald Ice Rumples, then it’s possible that the ice shelf will be destabilised.”
Nasa also warns that there are now safety concerns for people who work on the shelf.
At particular risk are researchers at the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley Station, which is described as a “major base” for Earth, atmospheric and space science.
The base typically operates all year round, but has been closed down twice in recent years due to panic over changes in the ice.
The station has also been rebuilt and moved over the past few decades.
Getty – Contributor The Brunt Ice Shelf is at real risk of splitting apart completely
Calving of ice shelves is quite common, but Nasa hasn’t seen such significant changes in this area previously.
“We don’t have a clear picture of what drives the shelf’s periods of advance and retreat through calving,” said Nasa glaciologist Chris Shuman.
“The likely future loss of the ice on the other side of the Halloween Crack suggests that more instability is possible, with associated risk to Halley V1a.”
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Scientists recently warned over an ancient Antarctic ice sheet collapse that caused a “global flood”, which could happen again.
Parts of Europe could disappear as Nasa warns that Antarctica is melting six times faster than it was 40 years ago.
And an ice sheet 60 times the size of England could melt causing 4m sea-level rise – potentially plunging parts of the UK coastline into the sea.
Do you worry about Antarctic ice loss? Let us know in the comments!
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