A Delaware-Sized Iceberg is About to Enter the Southern Ocean — Loss of Larsen C Ice Shelf Possible in Near Future

A rift in West Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf is about to expel a 1,000 foot tall, Delaware-sized iceberg into the Southern Ocean. The crack began to form in 2011. But over the past year, it has expanded rapidly. Now this massive, newly-forming iceberg hangs by just a thin 13 kilometer wide thread.

As you can see from the above Sentinel 1 animation posted by Adrian Luckman, rift progression has occurred in large leaps as pressure on the shelf reached various breaking points. New additions to the rift have often been in jumps of 20 kilometers or more of rift length in numerous instances over the past year. With just 13 kilometers of connecting ice remaining, the entire state-sized iceberg could now break off at any time.

According to Project Midas, late June observations show the crack continuing to widen at the rate of about 2 meters per day. So the larger section of the newly-forming berg is progressing toward the Southern Ocean at a rather rapid rate. And this movement is increasing strain on the small remaining ice bridge to the larger Larsen C Shelf.

Once the massive berg breaks off, researchers are concerned that it could precipitate a larger collapse of the Larsen C Ice Shelf itself. Such an event would be the third ice shelf loss along the Antarctic Peninsula during recent decades. A series of ice shelf collapses precipitated by warming oceans and atmospheres induced primarily by fossil fuel burning.

(Many cities are already suffering from rising ocean levels. However, future rates of sea level rise can increase considerably over present rates depending on how rapidly glaciers and ice shelves are taken down by human-forced warming. Image source: Tamino.)

Such ice shelf losses are a rather serious affair as they release the glaciers behind them — allowing these massive ice forms to enter the world ocean more rapidly and thus increasing the rate of global sea level rise. Already, numerous cities, islands and nations are under threat from oceans presently rising at the rate of 3.3 millimeters per year globally. But loss of buttressing ice shelves like Larsen C and others around Antarctica and Greenland may double the present rate of rise many times over.

At a recent meeting of over 250 U.S. Mayors in Miami to discuss how climate change is presenting a serious threat to cities, New York’s Bill de Blasio told reporters: “Miami Beach is facing, literally, an existential crisis.” But it’s not just Miami that’s under the gun. It’s pretty much every coastal town, city, state and nation around the world. And Larsen C is just one of the most recent sea level rise canaries to begin to show signs of ailing in the global warming coal mine.


Project Midas

A New Crack in One of Antarctica’s Largest Ice Shelves Could Mean a Major Break is Near

Miami Beach Mayors Talk Global Warming


Hat tip to Abel

Note: 1,000 foot tall reference includes freeboard + below water line measure.

Featured Comment:

Featured Comment Colin Wright

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  1. Had a bit of a laugh when I saw this. Looks like Trump is trying to green wash his border wall:

    Wouldn’t it just be better if we covered all buildings in solar panels instead of wasting money building a useless and harmful wall?

    • Regarding solar panels on the border wall:

      Won’t the ladders damage the panels?

      Here’s an opportunity to hear the William Tell Overture again:

    • Andy_in_SD

       /  June 27, 2017

      It would be very very very kindly of him….

      since the solar panels would need to be on the south side of the wall to face the sun, they would be easily removable by those in Mexico who would like free solar power.

  2. Worth noting that a brief, counter-trend rebound in coal production did occur in early 2017. Let’s hope for all our sakes that this slight bounce ends up being a blip.

    From the article:

    Still, coal’s dominant role in providing electricity has been eroding. China now has more renewable energy than any other nation. Its Communist Party leaders have vowed to invest $360 billion in the sector through 2020.

    India’s government has said it needs no more coal-powered power plants and last month canceled 13.7 gigawatts in proposed plants, enough to power more than 10 million homes if the plants ran at full capacity. It has promoted renewables with a raft of incentives and declared that power from some solar installations should be used first when demand goes up.

    Analysts said India is struggling to adjust to what appears to be a “new normal” — with its growth in electricity capacity outstripping the rise in demand. Manufacturing has not grown as quickly as hoped, and though transmission is steadily expanding to reach more households, 260 million Indians are still off-grid.

    Cheap natural gas, a growing appetite for renewable energy and stricter pollution rules spurred utilities to shut down or announce retirements for several hundred U.S. coal plants. U.S. utilities that invested heavily in alternatives are considered unlikely to revert to coal, Roberts said, meaning market forces and not Trump’s politics will play the biggest role in determining the industry’s future.

    • wili

       /  June 26, 2017


      “Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize”

      • We’d have to see year on year drops in emissions for a significant period — probably more than 5 years running — to actually begin to see atmospheric annual additions begin to consistently fall. The issue is that you tend to get noise from the Earth System. So it takes time before the signal of falling emissions comes out of that noise. Worth mentioning that we’ve reported on this subject here on numerous occasions.

        • Spike

           /  June 27, 2017

          Saw this yesterday on same topic:

        • +1

          Thanks for this, Spike. Excellent comments on the larger issue. Worth noting that even a 70 percent drop would result in a longer term atmospheric carbon build-up (semi-stability on decades to centuries timescales). We need to get to zero and then net negative. And the heavy lift comes from transitioning away from fossil fuels.

          We’re hitting stabilization at 10 billion tons or more of carbon hitting the atmosphere every year. That’s stabilization at what is probably the most rapid and intense carbon spike in Earth’s deep history.

          We have a window of opportunity at this time — given to us by positive global policies put forward by states in Europe, the Chinese, the Obama Administration and others. The result is that we have price parity or better between wind and solar and coal and gas in a large subset of markets. To transition or not to transition has now become a matter of choice by utilities, corporations, states, cities, and homeowners. A choice that in the long run provides economic benefit to pretty much everyone except for the fossil fuel extraction industry. If we fail to choose to rapidly transition to renewables, we will pay for it dearly in future pain and suffering for the human race. But we should be clear, whether we make that choice now or not, that the choice is there. It is available to us now.

  3. Tweet scheduled.

  4. Colin Wright

     /  June 26, 2017

    Larsen to me is the Canary in the coal mine.

    I mentioned before working for British Antarctic Survey in the early 90’s with the ozone discovery greats. Despite that bring the coolest job I ever did (literally & figuratively) a wonderful thing about it was the collaboration between sciences. As you can imagine we had a lot of glaciologists! I remember an indepth discussion with a post doc (now a professor I think) who was studying Larsen at the time. Larsen A had just broken off I think in 1995, and his comment was (we were both in our early 20’s @ the time) that although Larsen A had gone it was unlikely we would live to see Larsen B break off and it would be our grand children who would see Larsen C go. Now less than 30 years later Larsen C is going. That is terrifying.

  5. wili

     /  June 26, 2017

    “Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

    In the year 2100, 2 billion people – about one-fifth of the world’s population – could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels. Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell research in the journal Land Use Policy, July 2017.

    “We’re going to have more people on less land and sooner that we think,” … “The future rise in global mean sea level probably won’t be gradual.

    Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground.”

    Earth’s escalating population is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050 and climb to 11 billion people by 2100, according to a United Nations report. Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones and river deltas, driving people to seek new places to dwell.

    By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper. Geisler extrapolated that number to 2 billion by 2100.

    “The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement is a huge problem. We offer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertification, urban sprawl, land concentration, ‘paving the planet’ with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones offsetting permafrost melt,” Geisler said.

    Beyond sea level rise, low-elevation coastal zones in many countries face intensifying storm surges that will push sea water further inland. Historically, humans have spent considerable effort reclaiming land from oceans, but now live with the opposite – the oceans reclaiming terrestrial spaces on the planet,” said Geisler. In their research, Geisler and Currens explore a worst-case scenario for the present century.”

    Thanks to vox at POForums for this link

    • Thanks for this, Wili. Excellent commentary here.

      If the UN is projecting a failure to peak population by 2050, then that’s an added difficulty. Continually rising population, though not the primary driver of climate change, is a multiplying factor — especially when unhealthy consumption is promoted by bad economic actors. It is also one of the three primary factors promoting overshoot — 1. harmful consumption/overconsumption 2. population growth 3. systemic inequality.

      Very concerning development.

  6. wili

     /  June 26, 2017

    ” New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

    Although there’s some uncertainty in the distribution among Earth’s ocean basins, there’s no question that the ocean is heating rapidly”

    • A good update by the Guardian. Worth noting that these readings are just prior to the significant ocean surface temperature spike of 2014 to 2016.

  7. Syd Bridges

     /  June 27, 2017

    If Lord Voldemort were into ice rinks as well as golf courses, he could invade Larsen C, annex it and land a few Zambonis on it to have the latest novelty thrill for the uber rich-skating on a collapsed ice shelf. And, until it melted, he wouldn’t have to worry about rising sea levels as his rinks would be floating. Clients could live in specially created ice caves. Covered by a transparent geodesic dome, it could be just the place to be seen in the Austral summer. Indeed, it was all predicted long ago by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves.
    It was a miracle of rare device,
    A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

    However “And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean.” may be the more prophetic line from the poem.

  8. Suzanne

     /  June 27, 2017

    “Why Natural Gas is not a bridge fuel”….
    A short but interesting video today by Climate State on the high levels of methane being released around natural gas structures.

  9. Suzanne

     /  June 27, 2017

    We use to snorkel a great deal in the Florida Keys during the 80’s and 90’s…but stopped going because it just got too hard to see some of our favorite places dying. Well, the WP had an article today on this very issue….
    “The Race to Save Florida’s devastated Reefs from Global Warming”

  10. may double the present rate of rise many times over.

    What does that mean? Doubling five times means 32 to 1 change. Doubling ten times means 1024 to 1 change. How many times is “many”?

    • How does one project the path of a number of likely exponential curves in relation to various warming scenarios and various ice sheet response scenarios? Doubling many times over is a good general description of the range of future worst case possibilities. An order of magnitude increase in sea level rise rates or more is clearly possible by the end of this Century (an acceleration to 3.3 cm per year sea level rise by end Century roughly corresponds to 5-6 feet of sea level rise from 2000 to 2100). Beyond 2100, x32 or more is a possibility under the worse case warming and ice sheet response scenarios.

  11. Hilary

     /  June 27, 2017

    A court case on this week in NZ:
    “Law student Sarah Thomson is challenging the government over the way this country’s climate targets have been set, in the first case of its kind in New Zealand.
    Large-scale population displacement, and food and water shortages, will result if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are unsuccessful, a lawyer for a Hamilton student has told the High Court………….”

    • In today’s increasingly uncertain political environment, it is very heartening to me to see cases like these proliferating. The push will take some time to ripple through various western legal systems. But the action is another necessary line of attack for preventing ever worsening global harm. We, as citizens of western nations that possess legal systems based in cultural morality have an opportunity to use that legal lever to considerably move policy in a more positive direction. We should take every opportunity to do that.

      In other words, these guys are heroes.

  12. Collapse of the European ice sheet caused chaos in the past

    “Our model experiments show that from 15000 to 13000 years ago, the Eurasian ice sheet lost 750 cubic kilometres of ice a year. For short periods, it peaked at ice loss rates of over 3000 cubic kilometres per year.” says first author Henry Patton, researcher at CAGE Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

    “To place it in context”, says professor Alun Hubbard, the paper’s second author and a leading glaciologist, “this is almost ten times the current rates of ice being lost from Greenland and Antarctica today. What’s fascinating is that not all Eurasian ice retreat was from surface melting alone. Its northern and western sectors across the Barents Sea, Norway and Britain terminated directly into the sea. They underwent rapid collapse through calving of vast armadas of icebergs and undercutting of the ice margin by warm ocean currents.”

    “This is a harbinger of what’s starting to happen to the Greenland ice sheet” warns Hubbard.

    • Thanks, TDG. It’s important to remember that surface melt is probably less than half the story when it comes to ice sheet collapse. The early, hard hits appear to come from ocean warming. Once the atmosphere gets involved, however, it appears that surface melt can become quite dramatic and disruptive.

  13. Limited contribution of permafrost carbon to methane release from thawing peatlands

    “Instead, fluxes were driven by anaerobic decomposition of recent C inputs. We conclude that thaw-induced changes in surface wetness and wetland area, rather than the anaerobic decomposition of previously frozen C, may determine the effect of permafrost thaw on CH4 emissions from northern peatlands.”

  14. Greg

     /  June 27, 2017

    From Peter Sinclair:

    Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain…yikes.

    And let’s repeal and replace the GOP while we are at it.

    • Yeah. Holy cow! We knew the rain events had gotten worse. But, well, damn. Kudos to Peter for this.

    • Steve Piper

       /  June 27, 2017

      That’s an eye-popping chart! I would like to share it around a little further. Can I ask — how do we interpret the bars? It appears to be the extent to which record daily rainfall events exceed an average number of annual records set. So, a negative value means: “the number of daily rainfall records was below the ‘average baseline’ days in a year by X%.” It’s powerful in part because the 90-odd years of history indicate a nearly random distribution around the baseline, shifting dramatically with the ’98 El Nino and basically shooting up after that. ‘Something’ has changed structurally…

  15. Andy_in_SD

     /  June 27, 2017

    A piece in Vice.

    “Sea levels are rising faster than before, study shows”

    • Thanks for this, Andy. I highly recommend Vice in general. Great source of unadulterated news RE climate and other critical subjects of our time.

      • Abel Adamski

         /  June 28, 2017

        Trump takes steps to ensure more Americans have access to unsafe drinking water

        Pruitt, who supported Trump’s deep cuts to the EPA budget, recently made headlines when, after meeting with the CEO of Dow Chemical, he declined to ban a pesticide scientists say is harmful to both children and farmers. In doing so, he cited the use of “sound science in decision-making rather than predetermined results” — those so-called predetermined results being findings made by the EPA’s own scientists.

        But then they are getting rid of those pesky fake scientists and science advisors and replacing them with real scientists ans experts from the industries they are regulating (For the benefit of all Americans) whose scientific objectivity is open to serious question

  16. wili

     /  June 27, 2017

    Lots a smoke and fires near the mouth of the MacKenzie right now.


  17. Mark Throm

     /  June 27, 2017

    Glad you are one of very few that covers this massive event

  18. Abel Adamski

     /  June 28, 2017

    Thanks for the Hat Tip RS

    Sorry for the two links, but the coincidence is rather striking – a co-ordinated attack on science by 2 petroststes

    Courtesy of Redskylite on Climate Crocks
    Putin tightens control over Russian Academy of Sciences

    Then in the good ol USofA

    Because of the need to reconstitute the board, EPA is also canceling all subcommittee meetings planned for late summer and fall, Kavlock said.

    “We are hopeful that an updated BOSC Executive Committee and the five subcommittees can resume their work in 2018 and continue providing ORD with thoughtful recommendations and comments,” he wrote in urging departing members to reapply.

    The board, whose members are chosen by Pruitt, advises EPA on technical and management issues related to its research programs. First-term board members typically receive a second three-year reappointment. Last month, however, Pruitt broke with that tradition in opting not to renew the appointments of nine BOSC members. The new round of non-renewals will bite much deeper, BOSC Executive Committee Chairwoman Deborah Swackhamer, a University of Minnesota science professor, indicated in an email today to E&E News.

    Of 49 remaining subcommittee members, 38 will not be renewed at the end of August, leaving a total of 11, she said. None of the subcommittees will have a chair or vice chair, Swackhamer said, while the executive committee will have three members. While EPA is already seeking nominations to fill out the board, the deadline is the end of next week, she noted.

    But the first round sparked backlash from congressional Democrats and accusations that Pruitt is seeking to make room for industry representatives who will undercut the integrity of the board’s work.

    “This says to me that they do not want objective science,” Peter Meyer, an economist who resigned in protest last month, said in an interview this morning.

    • 🙂

      Thanks for the links, Abel.

      I’ve expanded the comment paramenters to include up to three links. I’m glad that wordpress has added this functionality.

  19. Abel Adamski

     /  June 28, 2017

    One that has always been contentious


    Role aerosols play in climate change unlocked by spectacular Icelandic volcanic eruption

    The 2014-15 Holuhraun eruption is thought to have emitted between 40,000-100,000 tons of sulphur dioxide every single day during its eruptive phase. Using state-of-the-art climate system models, combined with detailed satellite retrievals supplied by NASA and the Université libre de Bruxelles, the research team were able to study the complex nature of the cloud cover formed as a result of the eruption.

    They found that the size of the water droplets produce was reduced, which in turn led to cloud brightening – which results in an increased fraction of incoming sunlight being reflected back into space and, ultimately, providing a cooling effect on the climate.

    Crucially however, these aerosols had no discernible effect on many other cloud properties, including the amount of liquid water that the clouds hold and the cloud amount. The team believe the research shows that cloud systems are “well buffered” against aerosol changes in the atmosphere.

    Professor Jim Haywood, co-author of the paper and also from the University of Exeter added: “Explosive and effusive volcanic eruptions are very different. The massive explosive eruption of Pinatubo in 1991, which injected aerosol to altitudes of 25km+ into the stratosphere, has been the go-to event for improving our model simulations of the impact of explosive volcanic eruptions on climate.

    “Now volcanoes have provided a new clue in the climate problem: how aerosols emitted at altitudes similar to those from human emissions impact the climate. Without a doubt, the effusive eruption at Holuhraun will become the go-to study in this regard.”

    Understanding the difference between the effects of explosive and effusive events

  20. Abel Adamski

     /  June 28, 2017

    What we knew, now defined

    Lightning sparking more boreal forest fires

    A new NASA-funded study finds that lightning storms were the main driver of recent massive fire years in Alaska and northern Canada, and that these storms are likely to move farther north with climate warming, potentially altering northern landscapes.

    The study, led by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of California, Irvine, examined the cause of the fires, which have been increasing in number in recent years. There was a record number of lightning-ignited fires in the Canadian Northwest Territories in 2014 and in Alaska in 2015. The team found increases of between two and five percent a year in the number of lightning-ignited fires since 1975.

  21. Abel Adamski

     /  June 28, 2017

    Expect the unexpected

    “If you have a Deepwater Horizon-type spill where sea ice is forming, the oil can get into the ice and be transported to another country’s waters,” said study coauthor Stephanie Pfirman, a researcher at Barnard College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “We show that what happens in your EEZ doesn’t necessarily stay there.”

    As Arctic sea ice thins and retreats, the winds are pushing it faster and farther, allowing year-old ice to escape the summer-melt front, even as the front advances north. Using satellite images and GPS-tagged ice buoys, between 1988 and 2014 the researchers tracked 239,000 parcels of ice from their formation to their eventual demise. Consistent with earlier findings, they confirmed that ice floes have picked up their pace by about 14 percent each decade.

    Partly due to this acceleration, they calculate that 21 percent of all ice, covering 1 million square kilometers, drifted beyond the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, where it formed. The EEZ extends 200 miles off a country’s coastline, but nations can extend their economic activities further if they can show that the sea bottom continues from their continental shelf.

  1. A Delaware-Sized Iceberg is About to Enter the Southern Ocean — Loss of Larsen C Ice Shelf Possible in Near Future

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