The iceberg about to crack off Antarctica will be a million times more voluminous than the Empire State Building

By Tom Yulsman | July 5, 2017 9:08 pm

According to a new estimate, the impending iceberg could be the size of Delaware and extend more than 60 stories beneath the surface

iceberg

Antarctica’s soon-to-be iceberg is visualized here in a graphic from the European Space Agency.  

An ever-widening rift in an Antarctic ice shelf has grown from 70 miles long back in December 2016 to 124 miles long now. That means there’s just another three miles to go before the fissure reaches the ocean.

When that happens, the ice shelf will let loose a berg extending across 2,316 square miles, according to a new estimate based on satellite radar data released today by the European Space Agency. At its deepest, the berg will extend 689 feet below the sea’s surface, ESA says. That’s about 64 stories high. By comparison, the Empire State Building in New York is 102 stories tall.

Combine that Delaware-sized geographic extent with the thickness and you get a berg that contains a mind-boggling 277 cubic miles of ice. By my calculations, that really does come to more than a million times the volume of the Empire State.

iceberg

Please click to enlarge. (Image source: NASA)

The lengthening and widening rift that will birth the gargantuan berg is occurring in the Larsen C Ice Shelf along the Antarctic Peninsula.

According to a recent blog post by scientists of Project Midas, an Antarctic research project investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf:

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.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen to the iceberg once it breaks free. According to Anna Hoag of the University of Leeds, quoted in an ESA press release:

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.

Ice shelves naturally shed large chunks as part of their natural life cycles. “That’s how they behave,” says Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But this chunk will be one of the largest ever observed since satellite monitoring of the region began in the 1990s.

When the new iceberg finally does crack free, it could be the beginning of an irreversible retreat. Scientists aren’t sure about this, but if it does happen, it could eventually result in the demise of the entire ice shelf.

 

Ice shelves float on sea water. So a complete collapse of Larsen C would not raise global sea levels all by itself. But Larsen C, as with all ice shelves, retard the flow of grounded ice streams and glaciers behind them. So when one collapses, the ice streams and glaciers accelerate toward the ocean. And that does help to raise sea level.

ADVERTISEMENT
  • Cliff Clavin

    Just another day in the life of the earth. No big deal. Climate change has been happening for billions of years and will continue for another billion years.

    • bobc623

      I guess something major has to happen to you personally and of course to OWilson for you two guys to understand that we as humans hold a very big stick against nature itself. Unfortunately your grandchildren will pay the price for your ignorance, and you can take that to the bank. Just tell them not a buy a beach home on the Florida coast.

      • OWilson

        I have no sympathy for folks who buy houses on beaches, spits, barrier islands or flood plain lands.

        And contempt for politicians that insist on bailing them out and “rebuilding” on the same spot!

        By the way, these same politicians are running up National Debts that are impossible to pay back in most of our lifetimes, and are just being kicked down the road to OUR grandchildren.

        At this rate there may be no banks left to go to! :)

        • Fred Leeman

          Nearly half a trillion dollars in interest on the National Debt last year; it’s a good thing that we’re borrowing money from people who only have our best interests at heart. Calving ice shelves apart, I wonder how many people could have : a.) been medically insured for a tenth of that interest, or b:) been educated in a school better than …let’s say….The English High School in Boston, where barely half of the students even graduate – (and feel free to look at the public high schools in any of the major cities of this country – Black Lives Matter? not here they don’t)…… or c) been saved from dying in gang violence in Chicago…that “toddlin’ town” — where “more than a dozen” were killed over the 4th of July weekend…432+ Billion dollars in interest, and NOBODY in power seems to care; but let’s have a moment of silence for Larsen C….Maybe an epitaph for that unfortunate floe-to-be might be: “I said NEAT, dammit!!!!”

          • Tom Yulsman

            Thank you for your comments, and I understand what you are saying. But this blog is about the science of our planet, with an emphasis whenever possible on compelling imagery. As such, I don’t focus on gun violence in Chicago, poor public schools in Boston, or the national debt, however much I might care about those issues. Beyond that, I will add that the argument I think you are making is specious. You seem to saying that if we pay attention to climate change (for example, the collapse of ice shelves) and attempt to mitigate the cause and adapt to the changes already underway, then we cannot address the other issues. I think that’s wrong. But one thing we probably do agree on is that the current state of politics in this country is so profoundly broken and corrupted that very little at all is possible. At least nothing good.

        • Tom Yulsman

          Concerning folks building on beaches, barrier islands, etc., I have an interesting little story to tell, based on reporting I did a number of years ago, as well as a recent story in the Atlantic. Here you go:

          Before white folks settled in what’s now the Miami area, the native Americans tended to live on what high ground there was. This, obviously, was quite a ways back from the ocean. Then settlers came and killed them or otherwise kicked them out. That area eventually became the place where rick folks wanted to live. But later, the white folks with money decided they wanted to live by the water. (Thus was born Miami Beach, on a barrier island.) The high ground eventually became the Haitian part of Miami.

          But then came sea level rise and storm surges that started routinely flooding some low areas by the sea. (The sea is coming up at a rate of about an inch a year.) And now developers and real estate speculators are quietly eyeing the area and buying up land and property. That’s because Little Haiti is 10 feet above sea level, on average, and as high as 38 feet. Miami Beach is just three feet above the waves.

          Decades from now, Miami Beach, downtown, and other currently wealthy areas will be under water. Folks with money may well be making a last stand on that high ground where the Indians once sensibly lived, and Haitians later built a vibrant, if desperately poor, community.

          For more on this, see this recent story in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/03/taking-the-high-ground-and-developing-it/472326/

        • Dan Imler

          Politicians make poor decisions based on money and ignorance. Is that what you want? Do you have a concern about grandchildren? Have some? What do you mean by “our”?

      • Cliff Clavin

        People who buy land on the beach in Florida get what they deserve for being that stupid. I often wonder if those folks came by stupidity naturally or if they had to learn how to be that stupid.

        Only a fool would think that humans could carry a “stick” big enough to change the climate for any length of time. Humans are just a puny part of the life on this planet and have only been around a very short time compared to the billions of years the Earth has been here.

        My grandkids have other problems that are very real like the national debt and super bugs that are going to eventually kill millions before any kind of serious climate change.

        Protecting the climate is only for the rich. They can afford to spend the extra money to “save the Earth”. For us commoners and the majority of people on the planet just do what we can to survive and that means the cheapest and most economical way of getting what we need to live. Do you think that someone starving will think twice when they kill an endangered specie so they can eat to survive?

        Think of all the fossil fuels burned to rebuild New Orleans which is 10 feet below sea level and sinking 1.6 inches per year. If people actually believed in higher sea levels they they wouldn’t be rebuilding New Orleans that is destined to end up below the water with the next big hurricane or Mississippi flood. That shows people how stupid really are.

        • bobc623

          You seem to think I speaking about only people that buy homes right on the beach, well, I’m not. I’m talking about people buying homes on the Florida coast which is a good ways in from the beach, don’t try to frame this the way you want it to be. As far as the big stick and nature, I think we all know how powerful nature is but have you ever considered how much carbon we dump into that pot every single day? Yes, we carry a very big stick. As far people trying to stay alive eating endangered species, I say kill them all, I would much rather have an animal by my side than a human which brings us to overpopulation of our planet. I’ve been wishing and hoping for a pandemic that cannot be stopped by human means, why? because there’s too many people on this earth already. The earth needs at least half the population dead or even more.I’m not in favor of a Hitler or Stalin state where people are just outright killed, it should be natural like diseases on a monumental scale, then and only then will this earth have time to recover what we do it daily. Please don’t bring up my kin when referring to overpopulation, we all fit into that category the same. I just can’t stand that people stare a problem in the face and make excuses why instead of fixing it. So now, you have a lot of tobacco to put into your pipe and come back at me.

          • Cliff Clavin

            I’ll frame this anyway I want to. It’s called free-speech. You have your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, and I have my thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. You can’t prove yours, and I can’t prove mine.

            You, like many others, think humans are much more powerful than they actually are. This is just another form of narcissism.

            The climate of the earth has been changing for billions of years, and it will change for billions more years after humans are long gone. We are just a small blip in time, and after we are gone there will be other lifeforms to carry-on.

            If you want half of the humans on earth to die, then maybe human caused global warming will do the job. You should be promoting human caused global warming. But I don’t imagine you can see the hypocrisy of your statements of wanting half the humans on earth to die from some sort of plague, but not die from global warming.

            I don’t believe any of this anthropologic global warming crap. Humans may be able to change climate for a few years, but that’s about it. One single volcano has more potential and power to change the climate than anything humans could do. One single class six or seven volcano would exceed all of the nuclear weapons on the planet. And volcanoes can go on for months years or even decades’s. When Krakatoa exploded it change the climate on earth for 3 to 4 years. And then something amazing happened. The climate went back to what it was before the explosion.

            As for folks who live in Florida and don’t live on the beach, they bought their houses knowing full well that those homes could be destroyed by hurricane or by rising seas. They made their decision and they will have to live with it.

          • Tom Yulsman

            Mr. Clavin, your logic is faulty. Earth’s climate has of course changed naturally throughout more than 4 billion years. But that says nothing whatsoever about humankind’s ability to be a cause of climate change. In fact, by studying past, natural climate changes, paleoclimatologists have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that one of the main drivers of climate change is carbon dioxide. Moreover, they have learned what happens to our climate when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been as high as they are today. That scientific picture is sobering, whether you want to accept it or not.

          • Cliff Clavin

            Human caused climate change has nothing to do with logic. It’s all about emotions. There is no proof of causation, it’s all correlation. The heating and cooling of earth is a lot more complex than the simplistic folks promoting climate change would like to admit.

            If you are a fan of loose correlations then go here. http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

            This is how the religion of global warming works. Other correlations that have been proven wrong lately is that high amounts of salt cause heart disease, and that high cholesterol causes heart disease. Both of those are correlations, not causation. The global warming nut cases love the correlations, but no causation between humans and global warming has ever been proven.

          • Tom Yulsman

            Mr. bobc623, Do you not use your real name because you do not have the courage of your convictions? But I digress… It is a very short step away from your deeply hateful views and genocide. Oh no, you are not in favor of a Hitler or a Stalin doing the genocide. But if billions suffer and die because of disease and natural disasters, you will rejoice. Shame on you. You are despicable.

          • bobc623

            Why thank you Mr. Yulsman. This earth needs another black plague like never seen before. Period.

          • Cliff Clavin

            Oh Bobc623 you’re such a hypocrite. You want people to die of the plague but not global warming! Your ability to reason is highly questionable.

          • bobc623

            Well, I see you get me now. I care for the earth more than people. Not hard to figure out now is it?

          • Cliff Clavin

            There is nothing humans can do to change the Earth. Volcanos, earthquakes, meteorites, CME’s, tornadoes, hurricanes and more can do more damage to the Earth in a few hours, and in some cases seconds, than humans can do in a life time. We aren’t even a minor annoyance on the Earth.

            If you are so dedicated into protecting the Earth and want to do everything you can to “save” it they why haven’t you done the honorable thing and self terminate?

    • Dan Imler

      Are you planning on living for billions of years? Your logic eludes me. We are living in the relative short term. We are crapping too close to the nest. Fouling our living environment is not a good plan for the future of our little civilization of less than 10,000 years. Yes, it’s a speck on the timeline, but our individual life-spans are but piss-ants to the hive. Use your extensive intellect to deal with manageable timelines relative to human survival.

      • Cliff Clavin

        There is nothing I, or anyone else, can to do change the climate. Any attempts to change the climate will be defeated by the Earth, solar system, Milky Way and the rest of the universe. It would be like a small child with a plastic shovel trying to stop a tsunami.

        Just one gamma ray burst in our direction will wipe out the whole planet. A massive CME will put us back into the stone age and there wouldn’t be any electrical grid, cars, and billions will die for lack of food and water as all production facilities will be non functional. Recovery would take decades and maybe a century and cost more money than every person in the world would make in a 1000 years. It would be like you having to replace every electronic device you have immediately only there are no devices that you can buy because all the devices that make them have been destroyed by the CME.

        Plus humanity will destroy themselves in a short time. We have lost our way and have produced the likes of the Kardashians and Hiltons who find fame from the ignorant masses. Current humanity is proof that there is no such thing as evolution. We have also produced super bugs that currently have no fix and are highly adaptable and easily spread.

        There will be a thinning of the herd eventually and hopefully those who survive get back to basics.

        • OWilson

          Viva Darwin!

        • Dan Imler

          Everything you said could be right, with the exception about changing the climate. We are doing that. If you know the highway is coming through at some point (a la Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe), do you continue to crap too close to the house? Do you live poorly in the hopes of being wiped out in a day or two? Yes, there are too many people, and capitalism has worked out poorly for most. Yes, we spend our time on stupid amusements while constantly trying to rip off the other person. We invent “religions” that are fascist and tribal in nature while talking the “good” game. On the other hand, it’s a better life than the alternative, aka no life. Try making the best of it occasionally. For every jerk, there is an interesting person that makes a little good each day or has something funny and incisive to say. To quote John Prine, “Blow up your t.v., throw away your paper. Go to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches.Try an find jesus on your own.” If you don’t want to find some god or prophet, find peace and enjoy the world while it’s around. Get a dog or two. Lastly, what are “basics?”

  • OWilson

    Interesting enough, but more so because we now have the technology and the resources to study these phenomena in minute detail.

    Larsen C is just another sea ice COLLAPSE (break away) in a process that has been going on since the last Ice Age. Ice shelves break away, melt and are replaced, at rates which depend on the current cycle of Ice Age development and the subsequent interim warming.

    There are a lot of “ifs” and “buts” to overcome before it “poses a hazard to shipping in the Falklands” :)

    Larsen A COLLAPSED, (broke away) in 1995, and Larsen B (THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND) COLLAPSED (broke away) in 2002, with no resulting shipping disasters, or any other discernible problems. The glaciers continue to regenerate ice shelves in a continuous process.

    Millions times the size the Empire State building, actually proves just how little, our powerful Mother Earth is impressed by man’s puny efforts to control her!

    • Dan Imler

      In the face of such insipid doubt and abject pomposity, “I am monarch of all I survey, My right there is none to dispute, From the center all round to the sea, I am lord of the fowl and the brute. O solitude! Where are the charm that sages have seen in thy face? Better dwell in the midst of alarms, than reign in this horrible place.” – William Cowper. In the short-term, we will remember him more than you. We will make note of the misery in our surroundings and the turmoil that ensues in the near future. In the long-term, no one will be remembered, and nothing that we can recognize will help us pass the days. As Harry Truman once said, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” You, sir, are no dog.

      • OWilson

        The pompous (and very dangerous) ones are those true believers who think they can subjugate Human Nature and Mother Nature to their will!

        It’s been tried, many, many times before, and there is always a line up of volunteers to do it again! :)

  • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

    @OWilson: ”I have no sympathy for folks who buy houses on beaches, spits, barrier islands or flood plain lands.”

    Personally, ‘I have no sympathy for folks who can afford buy houses on beaches or barrier islands. I grew up within a community of squatters on a high spot in a flood plain. It was a lot of fun until the corps came and drained it.

    • Dan Imler

      You have no sympathy for anyone or anything. Not a problem. Have you tried video games?

      • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

        No time for games. All my time is spent studying the usage of words such as exaggeration, bombast, silliness, puffery, sarcasm, rhetoric, sophistry, sensationalism, histrionics, verbiage, doublespeak, idiocy and exaggeration.

        • OWilson

          Your liberal education produces mostly illiterate zombies, who have never, and will never be exposed to wisdom of the ages, such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Story of Chicken Little, The Three Little Pigs, Aesop’s Fables, even Brer Rabbit.

          That was constructive “brainwashing” in my time! :)

  • joseph2237

    Amazing picture of Antarctica with all the atmosphere activity is the first picture of the cooling engine that is suppose to cool the planet. There is lots of activity but its not working.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+