An Iceberg the Size of Delaware Is About to Break Away From Antarctica

John Sonntag, NASA // Public Domain
John Sonntag, NASA // Public Domain

The crack in the Antarctic ice has been growing for years. Now scientists say a major break is coming—an event that could set in motion the disintegration of the entire 19,000-square-mile Larsen C ice shelf.

The entire Larsen ice shelf, comprising Larsen A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, wraps like a crumbling white blanket around the Antarctic Peninsula. The rift in Larsen C started small, as these things do, but with each passing day its expansion accelerates. By June 24, the crack was widening by about 32 feet per day.

Aerial shot of a rift in the Larsen C ice shelf.
John Sonntag, NASA // Public Domain

Scientists at the UK-based Project MIDAS say a big break is imminent. "We still can't tell when calving will occur," they wrote on their website, "it could be hours, days or weeks—but this is a notable departure from previous observations."

The loss of the Delaware-sized iceberg—one of the largest ever recorded—will be both dramatic and destabilizing for its parent ice shelf.

"When it calves," the researchers write, "the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded. This event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula."

It could also trigger Larsen C's total collapse into the sea, which could, in turn, raise worldwide sea levels by four inches.

The break will be the third major calving from the Larsen ice shelf in recent memory. The area called Larsen A collapsed in 1995, followed by Larsen B in 2002. The latter was double the size of greater London.

The researchers have no evidence directly linking this particular break to climate change, but as a press statement noted, "It is widely accepted that warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures have been a factor in earlier disintegrations of ice shelves elsewhere on the Antarctic Peninsula."

You Can Visit Any National Park For Free This Saturday

Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

Looking for something to do this weekend? Within driving distance of one of the country's more than 400 national parks? The timing might work out. On Saturday, September 22, the National Park Service will be celebrating National Public Lands Day by offering free admission to any national park that normally charges an entrance fee.

Established in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day is held annually on the fourth Saturday in September. The day is set aside to recognize and encourage stewardship of green space in individual communities. If you see an opportunity to volunteer that day, you can get a voucher good for admission on a day of your choosing.

Admission to federally owned parks during peak season averages $30 at the 117 locations that require payment for access. Recently, the National Park Service had considered raising the fee to $70 at 17 of the busiest parks. The potential move would help address maintenance and other costs, but it's drawn criticism from conservation groups arguing the locations should remain affordable to visitors. In the end, the NPS decided to raise prices by $5 for one-time entry, or $5 to $10 for an annual pass, though some fees won't rise until 2020.

You can search for parks by state or by activity using the National Park Service Find a Park search engine here. Note that any additional charges for camping or other attractions aren't included in the promotion.

Can't make it this weekend? The parks are open for a fee-free day four times in 2018, down from 10 in 2017. The next date is November 11, in honor of Veterans Day.

There Could Be Hundreds of Frozen Corpses Buried Beneath Antarctica's Snow and Ice

Prpix.com.au/Getty Images
Prpix.com.au/Getty Images

Scientists and explorers take a number of risks when they travel to Antarctica. One of the more macabre gambles is that they'll perish during their mission, and their bodies will never be recovered. According to the BBC, hundreds of frozen corpses may be trapped beneath layers and layers of Antarctic snow and ice.

“Some are discovered decades or more than a century later,” Martha Henriques writes for the BBC series Frozen Continent. “But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge—or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.”

In the world’s most extreme regions, this is not uncommon. For comparison, some estimates suggest that more than 200 bodies remain on Mt. Everest. Antarctica's icy terrain is rugged and dangerous. Massive crevasses—some concealed by snow—measure hundreds of feet deep and pose a particularly serious threat for anyone crossing them on foot or by dogsled. There’s also the extreme weather: Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest place on Earth, yet scientists recently discovered hundreds of mummified penguins that they believe died centuries ago from unusually heavy snow and rain.

One of the most famous cases of a left-behind body on Antarctica dates back to the British Antarctic Expedition (also known as the Terra Nova Expedition) of 1910 to 1913. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his four-man team hoped to be the first ones to reach the South Pole in 1912, but were bitterly disappointed when they arrived and learned that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it.

On the return trip, Scott and his companions died of exposure and starvation while trapped by a blizzard in their tent, just 11 miles from a food depot. Two of those bodies were never found, but the others (including Scott’s) were located a few months after their deaths. Members of the search party covered their bodies in the tent with snow and left them there. The bodies have since travelled miles from their original location, as the ice grows and shifts around them.

Other evidence suggests people landed on Antarctica decades before Scott’s team did. A 175-year-old human skull and femur found on Antarctica’s Livingston Island were identified as the remains of a young indigenous Chilean woman. No one yet knows how she got there.

Accidents still happen: After coming close to completing the first solo, unaided traverse of Antarctica, British adventurer Henry Worsley died of organ failure following an airlift from the continent in 2016. Most modern-day polar visitors, however, have learned from past missteps.

[h/t BBC]

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