Growing Crack in Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf Spotted by NASA's MISR
Project MIDAS, a United Kingdom-based group that studies the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica, reported Aug. 18, 2016, that a large crack in the Larsen C shelf has grown by another 13 miles (22 kilometers) in the past six months. The crack is now more than 80 miles (130 kilometers) long. Larsen C is the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica, with an area of about 19,300 square miles (50,000 square kilometers), greater than the size of Maryland. Computer modeling by Project MIDAS predicts that the crack will continue to grow and eventually cause between nine and twelve percent of the ice shelf to collapse, resulting in the loss of 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of ice -- more than the area of Delaware. This follows the collapse of the Larsen B shelf in 2002 and the Larsen A shelf in 1995, which removed about 1,255 square miles (3,250 square kilometers) and 580 square miles (1,500 square kilometers) of ice, respectively.
The Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite flew over Larsen C on Aug. 22, 2016. The MISR instrument views Earth with nine cameras pointed at different angles, which provides information about the texture of the surface. On the left is a natural-color image of the shelf from MISR's vertical-viewing camera. Antarctica is slowly emerging from its polar night, and the low light gives the scene a bluish tint. The Larsen C shelf is on the left, while thinner sea ice is present on the right. A variety of cracks are visible in the Larsen C shelf, all appearing roughly the same. The image is about 130 by 135 miles (210 by 220 kilometers) in size.
On the right is a composite image made by combining data from MISR's 46-degree backward-pointing camera (plotted as blue), the vertical-pointing camera (plotted as green), and the 46-degree forward-pointing camera (plotted as red). This has the effect of highlighting surface roughness; smooth surfaces appear as blue-purple, while rough surfaces appear as orange. Clouds near the upper left appear multi-hued because their elevation above the surface causes the different angular views to be slightly displaced. In this composite, the difference between the rough sea ice and the smoother ice shelf is immediately apparent. An examination of the cracks in the ice shelf shows that the large crack Project MIDAS is tracking (indicated by an arrow) is orange in color, demonstrating that it is actively growing. You can compare this image to a similar one of the Larsen B Ice Shelf after its collapse in 2002 (http://www-misr.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/collectionImagery/?ImageID=233).
These data were acquired during Terra orbit 88717. Other MISR data are available through the NASA Langley Research Center. For more information go to: http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/project/misr/misr_table. MISR was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Terra spacecraft is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. The MISR data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center Atmospheric Science Data Center, Hampton, Virginia. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.