A massive Antarctic ice shelf covering an area the size of New York City or Rome has just collapsed into the ocean. Scientists warn that while they don’t expect any significant impact as a result of this event, melting ice in this historically stable region could bode well for the future.
Satellite photos show the sudden disappearance of the Conger Ice Shelf to the east Antarctic between March 14th and 16th. “The Glenzer-Conger Ice Shelf has probably been there for thousands of years and will never be there again,” said University of Minnesota glaciologist Peter Neff NPR. While the ice shelf had been slowly shrinking since the 1970s, recent accelerated melting preceded this month’s sudden and unexpected collapse.
Antarctica is divided into East and West Antarctica, with the Transantarctic Mountain Range separating the two halves. In West Antarctica, the ice is more unstable than in the east, so melting ice and collapsing ice shelves are often observed.
However, East Antarctica is one of the coldest and driest places on earth Earth, and for this reason ice shelf collapses are unheard of there. According to the APThis is the first major ice shelf collapse in East Antarctica in human history.
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This ice shelf collapse occurred during a bout of unusually high temperatures in the region. Concordia Station, an Antarctic research facility on the east side of the continent, reported temperatures of 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11.8 degrees Celsius) on March 18, the warmest temperature ever recorded at the station in March. This temperature is more than 72 F (40 C) warmer than the seasonal average. These unusually high temperatures are the result of “atmospheric flow,” which is a jet of warm, moist air that traps heat over the region, according to a report by The guard. Some of this moisture even fell out as rain.
Much of this heat from atmospheric flow was likely absorbed by the water below the Conger Ice Shelf. NASA planetary scientist Catherine Colello Walker speculated Twitter This heat, carried by a recent atmospheric flow event, contributed to the sudden collapse of the shelf.
Although the great collapse on 15Twitter. Fricker said that ice shelf calving, so named because it produces icebergs, is part of an ice shelf’s natural life cycle. Because of the unusual heat that accompanies it, scientists must investigate the possibility of alternating currentclimate change Link.
According to the US National Ice Center, the calvings that began March 7 have created several icebergs. One of these, called the C-37, is 8 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide (14.8 by 5.6 kilometers).
While scientists don’t expect major consequences as a direct result of the collapse of the Conger Ice Shelf, they warn it could be the start of a worrying trend. Accordingly nephewIce shelves act as buffers to protect Antarctic glaciers from melting by isolating these glaciers from warm ocean water. If the glaciers in East Antarctica melt, they could be a major cause of sea level rise for decades to come.
Originally published on Live Science.