Warnings of impending sea ice melt and the havoc increased sea levels could wreak have been standard for decades. Unfortunately ignoring them as superfluous or inconsequential has also been standard for decades and it looks like that reality might be catching up to warm water currents and Antarctic ice shelves.
Recently a giant ice shelf named Larsen C, significantly larger than the state of Rhode Island, seems poised to break off the greater sheet and into the Southern Pacific Ocean. Such an event could fundamentally change the geography of Northern Antarctica. With some scientists worried such an event could cause a destabilization of Antarctic glaciers, leading to a rapid destabilization that could quickly send those glaciers to sea.
Swansea University researcher Martin O’Leary told The Guardian of the possible consequences of such an event. “It just makes the if it were to collapse there would be nothing holding the glaciers up and they would start to flow quite quickly indeed.”
Unstable sea ice has long been a problem and in 1995 Larsen A collapsed into the ocean, in 2002 a similar shelf, Larsen B, disintegrated. As a result the entirety of Northern Antarctica became significantly less stable, paving the way for the current predicament facing Larsen C. Which may soon pave the way for further collapses, highlighted by researchers who recently told BBC they would be “amazed if it [Larsen C] didn’t go in the next few months.”
The break could cause numerous splinter breaks and would be one of the top 10 largest events of its kind.
The culprit for the rapid destabilization of Larsen C is warm water which flows to Antarctica via ever changing ocean currents. The impact of climate change on the world’s oceans is impossible to boil down to any one main effect. Changes in temperature can lead to changes in currents, which can help fuel events like the Larsen series of ice shelves respective collapses. Which can further intensify the process as a whole and shape global climate in an unknown and unpredictable fashion.
Which means Larsen C might simply be a footnote in a much longer history of the destabilization of Antarctic sea ice.