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By Adrian Luckman and Martin O'Leary
7 July 2017

(Project MIDAS) – As the Larsen C ice shelf moves closer to calving one of the largest icebergs on record, there are clear signs of changes in the part of the shelf which is about to calve. In late June 2017, the soon-to-be iceberg tripled in speed, producing the fastest flow speeds ever recorded on Larsen C, and seemed to be on the verge of breaking free.

The latest data from 6th July reveal that, in a release of built-up stresses, the rift branched several times. Using data from ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellites, we can see that there are multiple rift tips now within 5 km of the ice edge. We expect that these rifts will lead to the formation of several smaller icebergs, as well as the large iceberg which we estimate will have an area of 5,800 sq km. Despite this, the iceberg remains attached to the shelf by a thin band of ice. It is remarkable how the moment of calving is still keeping us waiting.

When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. 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 MIDAS Project will continue to monitor the development of the rift and assess its ongoing impact on the ice shelf. Further updates will be available on this blog, and on our Twitter feed.

Larsen C rift branches as it comes within 5 km of calving

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