Why you should care about the Larsen C ice-shelf

This image was taken during the 2012 Antarctic campaign of NASA's Operation IceBridge, a mission that provided data for the new ice shelf study.  The Delaware sized iceberg piece, Larsen C ice-shelf, was reported on Friday.  (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr CREATIVE COMMONS)

A lot of big things happened this past week. Donald J. Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. Congressional Republicans began to repeal Obamacare. Millions of women around the country marched to protest Trump’s views. Press Secretary Sean Spicer attacked the media for their portrayal of Trump’s inauguration. With all of that craziness happening in the political world, it is not surprising that some news was missed. Unfortunately for all us, that big piece of news was very troubling to the science community and the world at large. On Friday it was reported an iceberg piece the size of Delaware was in position to break off of a massive ice-shelf along the coast of Antarctica.

The ice-shelf in question is the Larsen C ice-shelf. Sound familiar? Probably not. An ice-shelf that is much more familiar is the Larsen B ice-shelf which completely disintegrated in 2002. The collapse of the ice-shelf was so significant that it even made an appearance, albeit a very dramatic one, in the film The Day After Tomorrow. The Delaware-sized iceberg piece is attached by only 6.4 miles of ice. Scientists responsible for watching the Larsen ice-shelf say the iceberg could break away at any time.

Icebergs break away from ice-shelves all the time. Breaking won’t cause oceans to rise up because the ice-shelf is already sitting in the water. In other words, the fluid is already displaced. The danger doesn’t come from the concept, but from the size. For starters, when this iceberg breaks away, it will be one of the ten largest icebergs to break away in history. If an iceberg breaks away, it could destabilize the entire ice-shelf. When the Larsen B ice-shelf cracked in 2002, the entire ice-shelf basically disintegrated over the course of a few months. Scientists are scared the same thing could happen to the Larsen C ice-shelf. If that did happen then more interior land based ice structures could meet warmers waters. That meeting could lead to more melting of polar ice, which would lead to higher sea levels across the globe.

Normally this would just be troubling. Everyone who follows the effects of climate change knew something like this was coming soon. Only so much time could go by before another major blow to polar ice caps occurred.

What makes this break even more troubling then other climate change news is how the current President is responding to climate change. Trump believes climate change is a hoax created by China. His administration has gone on record saying they will be pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. On the White House website, the only reference to climate change is an article on Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower. It seems the entire Trump administration wants to believe climate change isn’t real or a big enough deal for anyone to address.

This piece, however, is not meant to be an attack on the Trump administration. He has been in office for three days, there is no real indication of what he is really going to do in terms of climate change as President. Instead, this is a plea to the national and international community to believe the majority of scientists when they say climate change is real. As mentioned earlier, icebergs breaking off of ice-shelves is a natural phenomenon. Warming oceans are not. These warming waters are a direct consequence of climate change and pose a threat to the world at large and certainly our current way of life.

If an entire ice-shelf can disappear over the course of a few months, it is not a stretch to say that. left unchecked, climate change could vastly change the planet over the next twenty years. The time to make a stand and fight back is now.

While it remains important to watch the White House and remain vigilant over politics in Washington, it is just as important to watch what is happening in the world. Antarctica may seem far away, however, what happens there could very much impact us all.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and opinion’s staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.