4 Things to Understand about the Larsen C Ice Shelf Break

ONE Art Space in NYC

… and what it means for climate change, the oceans, and our world.

When one of the largest icebergs in history recently broke away from Antarctica, the world reacted with stunned reverence. News like this can be frightening, discombobulating, sad… and unclear. Below we share 4 simple facts to understand what happened, and what it means.

1 Larsen C Ice Shelf is the name of a large sheet of ice floating above the water and currently blocking the land-dwelling glaciers of Antarctica from flowing freely into the ocean. What broke away, or calved, in early July is the third-largest iceberg in history, now named Iceberg A68. A68 weighs a trillion tons, is four times larger than the Greater London area, and is (on average) 620 feet thick; roughly the height of two Statues of Liberty stacked atop one another. It decreased the size of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by 12%. Scientists have remarked that “maps will need to be redrawn.”

© Deimos Imaging

2 The crack first began forming in 2011, and has grown steadily ever since. The final calving occurred sometime in the second week of July, captured by satellite imagery. The resulting Iceberg A68 is now adrift in the ocean, most likely to fragment slowly but surely into smaller and smaller pieces until it melts and rejoins the water cycle. This process has occurred with two previous Ice Shelfs in recent history, both roughly within the last 20 years.

“When Larsen C collapses, the land-bound glaciers will be unblocked from melting due to rising temperatures and flowing into the ocean, leading to a major rise in sea levels.”

3How is this related to climate change? As previously mentioned, Larsen C Ice Shelf was already floating on water, making it unlikely that Iceberg A68 will lead to a rise in sea level. The biggest concern is that a breakage of this size will lead to Larsen C becoming unstable and collapsing. This is not unprecedented; previous iceberg breakages led to the collapse of Larsen A Ice Shelf in 1995 and Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002. When Larsen C collapses, the land-bound glaciers will be unblocked and free to flow into the ocean, leading to a major rise in sea levels. Most scientists agree that the breakage of Iceberg A68 was not caused directly by climate change, but rapidly melting ice around the world is, and it is certainly cause for alarm.

4 What’s Next? Just a week after Iceberg A68 calved, a new crack was detected in Larsen C with the potential to extend into the Bawden Ice Rise, an area crucial to keeping Larsen C stable. Should Larsen C collapse, the rise in sea level would equal the rise the world already sees each year due to climate change. Even a three foot rise in sea level could lead to the endangerment of coastal animals and plant species due to habitat erosion, economic downturn as coastal property depreciates and disappears, and contamination of our freshwater supply due to the salinization of our aquifers. Studies show that as many as 13 million US citizens could be displaced due to rising sea levels by the end of the century. The estimate for the number of humans affected worldwide is almost incalculable.

“Even a three foot rise in sea level could lead to the endangerment of coastal animals and plant species due to habitat erosion, economic downturn as coastal property depreciates and disappears, and contamination of our freshwater supply due to the salinization of our aquifers.”

Gentoo Penguins & Blue Whale Bone © Anne de Carbuccia, 2017

Rising temperatures are caused by greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, the biggest causes of which are the fossil fuel industry, the fashion industry, and improperly disposed of trash. The time has come to consider carefully each dollar you spend, each piece of waste you throw out, each choice you make. Be aware of the threats facing our planet due to climate change today, and make your choices wisely. We can only save our world working together as One Planet, toward One Future.

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One Planet One Future is a 501(c)3 arts nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about climate change and environmental destruction. They host exhibitions around the world and have permanent Art Spaces in NYC and Milan (open September 2017). Get involved.

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