Massive Antarctic ice shelf to disappear by 2020: NASA

Washington: The last remaining section of a massive Antarctic ice shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is likely to disintegrate completely before 2020, a new NASA study has revealed.

The ice is melting so fast that the shelf will be gone before the end of the decade, found the team led by Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Located on the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Larsen B remnant is about 1,600 sq kms in area and about 500 metres thick at its thickest point.

In 2002, NASA released dramatic images that showed a portion of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf collapse and disappear.

“What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place,” Khazendar said. “Change has been relentless.”

Khazendar noted his estimate of the remnant’s remaining life span was based on the likely scenario that a huge, widening rift that has formed near the ice shelf’s grounding line will eventually crack all the way across.

The free-floating remnant will shatter into hundreds of icebergs that will drift away, and the glaciers will rev up for their unhindered move to the sea.

“This study of the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers provides insights about how ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate,” said glaciologist Eric Rignot, co-author of the paper.