The iceberg has fully detached from Larsen C
All eyes are on Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf as a deep crack continues to cut across the ice, leaving a huge chunk clinging on.
When it eventually gives way, one of the largest icebergs on record will be set adrift.
Even before the inevitable happens, ESA’s CryoSat mission can reveal some of the future berg’s vital statistics.
Historical iceberg tracks
Six different satellite scatterometers are used to track icebergs around Antarctica.
The image shows iceberg tracks from 1999 to 2010.
Monitored by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar pair, the crack in the ice is now around 200 km long, leaving just 5 km between the end of the fissure and the ocean.
While we wait for Sentinel-1 to tell us when this 6000 sq km iceberg is spawned, CryoSat can reveal what the berg’s measurements will be.
Larsen C in the GeoGarage platform (UKHO charts)
This Earth Explorer satellite carries a radar altimeter to measure the height of the ice surface.
In general, this information is used to work out how the thickness of sea ice and land ice is changing and, consequently, how the volume of Earth’s ice is being affected by the climate.
Noel Gourmelen from the University of Edinburgh said, “Using information from CryoSat, we have mapped the elevation of the ice above the ocean and worked out that the eventual iceberg will be about 190 m thick and contain about 1155 cubic kilometres of ice.
“We have also estimated that the depth below sea level could be as much as 210 m.”
British Antarctic Survey (BAS) recently captured this video footage of a huge crack
in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic.
Again, Sentinel-1 and CryoSat will play an important role in tracking the berg and keeping an eye on how it changes.
Dr Gourmelen added, “We will continue to use CryoSat to monitor how the berg changes as it drifts away from the ice shelf.”
UAV (unmanned airborne vehicle) flight along a crack in the Brunt Ice Shelf, which appeared.
This was detected by scientists in October 2016.
A berg, similar in size, drifted around the Brunt ice shelf in December 2015, causing alarm for those stationed at the Halley research base, which sits on the floating section of the shelf.
Anna Hogg from the University of Leeds said, “Measurements from CryoSat showed that the Brunt berg was around 390 m, so too thick to come close to ‘shore’ since the sea is shallow here.
“As for this new Larsen C berg, we are not sure what will happen. It could, in fact, even calve in pieces or break up shortly after. Whole or in pieces, ocean currents could drag it north, even as far as the Falkland Islands. If so it could pose a hazard for ships in Drake Passage.
“What is certain, though, is that we shall continue to use CryoSat to keep a check on its progress.”
ESA’s CryoSat mission measured the depth of the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf, which led to the birth of one of the largest icebergs on record.
Carrying a radar altimeter to measure the surface height and thickness of the ice, the mission revealed that the crack was several tens of metres deep.
(ESA released 06/07/2017)
ESA’s Mark Drinkwater added, “Our historical effort to track large icebergs shows that those from the western Weddell Sea find their way out into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or into the South Atlantic.
“It seems that only bergs from the Ross ice shelf stay in the westward coastal current and come close to Brunt ice shelf.”
The main purpose of CryoSat is to give us information to understand how ice is changing to improve our understanding of Earth.
The value of having satellites built to deliver for science and missions like Sentinel-1, which are built to deliver for everyday applications, is enormous.
In this case, the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission and the ESA Earth Explorer CryoSat mission complement each other, giving us a powerful tool to monitor changing ice sheets.
- BBC : Giant iceberg splits from Antarctic
- The Guardian : Imminent collapse of a portion of Larsen C ice shelf hammers home reality of climate change
- Xocas project : This is how big is that iceberg that broke off Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica
- The Conversation : I’ve studied Larsen C and its giant iceberg for years – it’s not a simple story of climate change
- NYTimes : How Big Is the Iceberg? That Depends on Where You Live
- Project Midas : Larsen C calves trillion ton iceberg / Larsen C rift branches as it comes within 5 km of calving
- Discover Mag : The iceberg about to crack off Antarctica will be a million times more voluminous than the Empire State Building
- National Geographic : The Larsen C Ice Shelf Collapse Is Just the Beginning—Antarctica Is Melting
- Climate Central : Scientists know how big the Larsen C iceberg will be / We Couldn’t Monitor Larsen C Without These Satellites / The Larsen C Rift is Racing to Its Conclusion / These Images Show Just How Big the Larsen C Iceberg Is / The Larsen C Iceberg Is Expected to Have Company
- GeoGarage blog :The Larsen C Iceberg Is on the brink of breaking off / The crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by 11 miles ... / Close look at a crack on Larsen C