Massive Antarctic ice shelf set to break off, scientists warn

A rift in the Larsen C ice shelf has grown by 17 km in just six days

Massive Antarctic ice shelf set to break off, scientists warn

Aerial view of a section of the ice rift. Picture: NASA, John Sonntag

A massive iceberg in Antarctica is perilously close to breaking off, scientists have warned.

The rift in the Larsen C ice shelf has grown by 10.6 miles (17 km) in just six days and, while such cracks happen periodically, experts are also watching to see whether the process has been affected by climate change.

Scientists at the University of Swansea said the break could produce a new iceberg of about 1,900 square miles (around 3057 km) - one of the largest ever recorded.

"There appears to be very little to prevent the iceberg from breaking away completely," they said.

Larsen C is about 350m thick and floats on the seas at the edge of West Antarctica.

It is the largest and most northerly of the Antarctic ice shelves and the release of the new iceberg - called calving - would see it lose about a tenth of its total area.

It would not be enough to contribute to the rise of sea levels but it could leave the main part of the ice shelf unstable, allowing it to collapse and release large amounts of water, the scientists have said.

Professor Adrian Luckman, of Swansea University College of Science and head of Project Midas, said the event would "fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula".

He added: "We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event."

The news comes on the same day that US President Donald Trump announced he would pull his country out of the Paris Agreement to limit climate change.

While Project Midas scientists said they have no evidence to link the growth of the rift to climate change, it is widely accepted that warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures were a factor in the disintegration of Larsen A and Larsen B.

Antarctica is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth, they said, adding that this would "certainly not have hindered the development of the rift" in Larsen C.