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Update on the Larsen-C iceberg breakaway

August 02, 2017

The largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula lost 10% of its area when an iceberg four times the size of London broke free earlier this month.

Since the 12 July 2017 breakaway Dr Anna Hogg, from the University of Leeds and Dr Hilmar Gudmundsson, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), have continued to track the iceberg - known as A68 - using the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite.

Their observations show that since the calving event, the berg has started to drift away from the Larsen-C, with open ocean clearly visible in the ~ 5 kilometre gap between the berg and the ice-shelf.

A cluster of over 11 'smaller' icebergs have also now formed, the largest of which is over 13 km long. These 'bergy bits' have broken off both the giant iceberg and the remaining ice-shelf.

Dr Hogg, an ESA Research Fellow in the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at Leeds said: "The satellite images reveal a lot of continuing action on Larsen-C Ice Shelf. We can see that the remaining cracks continue to grow towards a feature called Bawden Ice Rise, which provides important structural support for the remaining ice shelf.

"If an ice shelf loses contact with the ice rise, either through sustained thinning or a large iceberg calving event, it can prompt a significant acceleration in ice speed, and possibly further destabilisation. It looks like the Larsen-C story might not be over yet."

Reporting this week in the journal Nature Climate Change Dr Hogg and Dr Gudmundsson, examine the events leading up to this dramatic natural phenomenon and discuss how calving of huge icebergs affects the stability of Antarctic ice shelves.

Their article asserts that a calving event is not necessarily due to changes in environmental conditions and may simply reflect the natural growth and decay cycle of an ice shelf.

Dr Gudmundsson said: "Although floating ice shelves have only a modest impact on of sea-level rise, ice from Antarctica's interior can discharge into the ocean when they collapse. Consequently we will see increase in the ice-sheet contribution to global sea-level rise.

"With this large calving event, and the availability of satellite technology, we have a fantastic opportunity to watch this natural experiment unfolding before our eyes. We can expect to learn a lot about how ice shelves break up and how the loss of a section of an ice shelf affects the flow of the remaining parts."

Ice-shelf retreat on the Antarctic Peninsula, has been observed throughout the satellite era - about 50 years. Large sections of the Larsen Ice Shelf A and B, and the Wilkins1 ice-shelf collapsed in a matter of days in 1995, 2002, and 2008, respectively.

Geological evidence suggests that ice-shelf decay of this magnitude is not unprecedented, however, prior to 2002 the Larsen-B ice shelf remained intact for the last 11,000 years. While Antarctic ice shelves are in direct contact with both the atmosphere and the surrounding oceans, and thus subject to changes in environmental conditions, they also go through repeated internally-driven cycles of growth and collapse.

-end-

Further information:

New animation, GIF and PNG available for download at: https://goo.gl/FyR5V8

Credits and captions:
Animation: Hogg_NCC_Lc.mp4
Credit: A.E. Hogg, CPOM, University of Leeds.
Caption: The story of the giant iceberg calving event on the Larsen-C Ice-Shelf.

GIF: Hogg_NCC_Lc_coherence.gif
Credit: A.E. Hogg, CPOM, University of Leeds.
Caption: Sentinel-1 data shows network of cracks grow on the Larsen-C Ice-Shelf, before the colossal iceberg broke free.

Image: LarsenC-S1-20170730.png
Credit: A. Fleming, British Antarctic Survey.
Caption: View of the A68 iceberg from a European Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite image acquired on 30.7.2017.

Dr Anna Hogg and Dr Hilmar Gudmundsson are available for interviews and additional information.

To get in touch with Dr Hogg please contact: Anna Martinez, press officer, University of Leeds
tel:+44 (0)113 343 4196; email: a.martinez@leeds.ac.uk

To get in touch with Dr Hilmar Gudmundsson please contact: Sarah Vincent, Senior Communications Manager, British Antarctic Survey:
tel +44 (0)1223 221445; mobile +44 (0)7850 541910; email sarnce@bas.ac.uk

Broadcast-quality footage of Larsen Ice Shelf and additional images are available from British Antarctic Survey Press Office

Impacts of the Larsen-C ice-shelf calving event by Anna E Hogg and G Hilmar Gudmundsson will be published on Nature Climate Change on 2 August 2017 (PDF available on request)
URL: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v7/n8/full/nclimate3359.html

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 33,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

We are a top 10 university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and we are The Times and The Sunday Times University of the Year 2017. Additionally, the University has been awarded a gold rating by the Government's Teaching Excellence Framework recognising its 'consistently outstanding' teaching and learning provision. http://www.leeds.ac.uk

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know-how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. For more information visit http://www.bas.ac.uk@basnews

University of Leeds

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