7 facts on the crack in the Antarctic ice shelf

A giant iceberg larger than Rhode Island is set to break off Antarctica, likely in the next few months.

Scientists are keeping a close eye on the ever-growing crack in an Antarctica ice shelf that will eventually lead to the iceberg's formation.

Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, a scientist with Project MIDAS, which is keeping close watch over the rift, answered many of the burning questions about the imminent shearing of the iceberg.

Will the iceberg's formation raise sea levels?

No, but it could indirectly cause a tiny sea-level rise years, decades, or even centuries from now — or never.

The ice shelf is already floating, so when a part of it detaches — the iceberg — no extra water is displaced. Project MIDAS research shows the remaining ice shelf may be less stable and could follow the example of its northerly neighbor Larsen B, which experienced an acceleration of glaciers upon its ice shelf break-up. Other scientists expect the ice shelf to regrow. Only time will tell.

Even if it is less stable, the point at which collapse of the remaining ice shelf would occur would be many years away. Only following this potential far-away collapse would sea-level rise occur, and even then the extra rates of sea-level rise would be small, measured in millimeters per year at most.

Are any penguins at risk?

No. There are no penguin colonies on the ice shelf.

How long will it take for the iceberg to completely melt after it breaks off?

It depends on how quickly the iceberg moves to a warmer climate, and how quickly it breaks into smaller pieces. The iceberg — or icebergs if it breaks up ever further — may remain in the region, where the ocean is quite cold, and stick around for years, even decades. Or it could move with ocean currents and winds in a northward direction, where it will be eroded more quickly.

Will a wave be created when the iceberg breaks off?

No. The breaking off, or "calving" as it is called, will likely be slow and graceful. The ice is already floating so when the fracture breaks all the way through, it will simply start to drift away.

Is there any way to watch the event live?

No. Accessing that area is logistically difficult and involves preparing well in advance. And even if a camera were set up, it could only see a small part of the iceberg, while satellites see the whole thing on a regular basis.

Will another iceberg form behind this one?

It depends on how the remaining ice reacts to the change, but we are unlikely to see anything as big as this from this ice shelf for a long, long time.

Can the ice shelf reform?

Yes. Calving is a natural part of the cycle of ice shelves. Ice flows gradually into the shelf, the shelf expands until stresses become too much, and then icebergs are formed. Whether or not Larsen C will reform is unclear. Scientists think there is a possibility the remaining shelf is too fragile to grow back to its former size.

Copyright 2017 KING


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