ANTARCTICA IS MELTING! An enormous mass of ice shelf breaks up

ANTARCTICA IS MELTING! An enormous mass of ice shelf breaks up

ANTARCTICA IS MELTING! An enormous mass of ice shelf breaks up

Last updated on February 26th, 2022 at 01:15 pm

An enormous mass of ice shelf breaks up and disintegrates from Antarctica.


In 2002, massive sea ice of surface area 4320 sq km set free itself from Antarctica. The gigantic independent floating ice shelf was known as Larsen B. 

For 11 years, the 1000-square mile of floating ice sheet held persistently to the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Larsen B Embayment. 


Until recently, in just a few days, warm winds raised the temperature so much that it led to the separation of the ice shelf from the coast between 16 and 21 January, taking away a Philadelphia-sized portion of the much solid Scar Inlet Ice Shelf.


 As per NASA, “The breakup is the latest in a series of notable events in the Larsen B embayment over the past 20 years.”

Larsen B is gone forever, but it leaves behind so many queries in the minds of scientists regarding the melting of Antarctica. 

The disappearance of Larsen B has spurred the curiosity of scientists to decode the reason as it could imply to other shelves as well. 

Even prior to the breakup, scientists at NASA kept a check on the glaciers through the satellites. They found out that the consistent summers in the Peninsula led to the ample amount of melted water, thus weakening and eventually breaking off the shelf. In addition, the successive rise in the air temperature and increased melting on the ice surface combine to result in fragmentation. 

An atmospheric river is also prevalent in contributing to this breakup. As the name suggests, the atmospheric river is a long narrow filament that carries the moisture in the atmosphere. It adds to the already rising temperature near the shelves due to the enhanced water vapour along its boundaries.

Foehn winds, typically dry and warm winds that flow towards the downside of the mountain range, also add to the heating up of these glaciers. Rajashree Tri Datta, an expert on these winds, informs that these winds are a commonly occurred phenomenon. In the Antarctic Peninsula, they occur when solid westerly winds hit the high mountains forming their stony ridge.

The air drives upwards as the winds brush along the steep mountain area. It cools as it goes up and eventually forms the clouds that precipitate the moisture later. 

As a consequence of this phenomenon, the downward-facing wind of the mountain gets warmer and ultimately contribute to the increased temperature. 

Ella Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Reading, says, “I would go so far as to say that the shelf had been primed for years by ongoing warming in the ocean and atmosphere and that the foehn winds, plus an unusually warm period that preceded its breakup, were simply the trigger. Call it the last straw, if you like.”

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Foehn winds have been influenced by climate warming and the ozone hole. It is observed that such winds prevail mostly in winters which means chilly winds can subdue them. But due to global warming, the mountains heat up to some extent, even in winters. Due to the variations in climatic temperatures, glaciers melt and freeze, remelt and refreeze. The meltwater can’t leak away as readily when surface melting occurs again. As a result, persistent ponds of meltwater are formed, reflecting much less sunlight than shiny ice. Due to the solar heat absorption, the ice underneath gets even thinner. It gradually loosens the frozen mountain and cannot sustain the heat further due to fewer pore spaces. It finally gives in the form of disintegration of the shelves. 

“One such extreme foehn-induced melt event occurred in the winter of 2016, producing strong melt over the Larsen C ice shelf,” says Datta.

It is alarming to witness such an event in the world. It addresses the intensity and ferocity of global warming affecting the earth for many years now. And finally, it brings us to an essential question: Why are melting glaciers a problem?

Frozen water in glaciers keeps the sea level intact, especially near the coastal regions. However, these solid glaciers start to melt with the increased global warming. The incident in 2002 proves how much the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed up since the 1950s. In 2022, the further fragmentation of ice shelves that stayed intact for over a decade gives a clear hint of what is about to come. 

It should worry us all as it indicates how the increasing temperatures affect the Antarctic Peninsula and can prove fatal. If the glaciers melt, the sea level will rise, which could wipe out the entire population living in the coastal regions. So it is a sure-shot route towards our end if it didn’t stop here. 

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