British scientists film massive rift in Antarctic ice shelf

The crack could form an iceberg the size of Rhode Island within weeks or months.

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British Antarctic Survey
British Antarctic Survey

The 1,500-foot-wide crack across Antarctic's Larsen C ice shelf has grown by roughly 20 more miles since December. It's now around 110 miles long, and based on satellite observations this month, an ice berg as big as Rhode Island could break away from Larsen C within weeks or months. A team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey who've been monitoring ice shelves have captured the growing chasm on film to show us what it actually looks, as you can see in the video after the break.

It's still unclear why the rift grew so quickly in recent months. There's a lot of evidence that climate change contributed to Larsen C's thinning, but ice shelves normally produce icebergs every few decades anyway. Whatever the reason is, the calving could accelerate the flow of glaciers stoppered by Larsen C into the ocean. It'll be like popping out a wine bottle's cork and letting the contents pour out. That's what happened when icebergs broke away from the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves in the past.

The glaciers flowing into Larsen C are enough to raise global sea levels by a centimeter -- much, much more than the usual three millimeters they rise every year. Scientists can't say how quickly the glaciers will flow into the ocean after the calving, but they're keeping a close eye on the expanding rift for now.

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