According to a new study by Nasa, Antarctica’s Larsen B ice-shelf is on course to completely disintegrate within the next five years.
Studies show that the 10,000-year-old ice shelf, after partially collapsing in 2002, is “quickly weakening.”
“These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” said Ala Khazendar of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”
The data for the study was collected by aircraft which measure ice surface elevations and bedrock depths and space-based “synthetic aperture radars” that have been operating since 1997. The Larsen B ice shelf is currently 625 square miles in area and 1,640ft at its thickest point.
The research has shown that two of the three glaciers feeding Larsen B have sped up dramatically since the shelf split in 2002, with scientists now predicting that a major crack is likely to move all the way across the shelf, splintering the remnants into icebergs that will float away.
The scientists fear that the cracking of the shelf could see the three glaciers – named Leppard, Flask and Starbuck – accelerate rapidly towards the ocean.
“After the 2002 Larsen B collapse, the glaciers behind the collapsed part of the shelf accelerated as much as eightfold – comparable to a car accelerating from 55 to 440mph,” said a Nasa release on the study published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.