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NASA's MISR Tracks Growth of Rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf
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NASA's MISR Tracks Growth of Rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf

A rift in Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf has grown to 110 miles (175 km) long, making it inevitable that an iceberg larger than Rhode Island will soon calve from the ice shelf. Larsen C is the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica, with an area of almost 20,000 square miles (50,000 square kilometers). The calving event will remove approximately 10 percent of the ice shelf's mass, according to the Project for Impact of Melt on Ice Shelf Dynamics and Stability (MIDAS), a UK-based team studying the ice shelf. Only 12 miles (20 km) of ice now separates the end of the rift from the ocean. The rift has grown at least 30 miles (50 km) in length since August, but appears to be slowing recently as Antarctica returns to polar winter. Project MIDAS reports that the calving event might destabilize the ice shelf, which could result in a collapse similar to what occurred to the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002.

Annotated Image
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The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured views of Larsen C on August 22, 2016, when the rift was 80 miles (130 km) in length; December 8, 2016, when the rift was approximately 90 miles (145 km) long; and April 6, 2017. The MISR instrument has nine cameras, which view the Earth at different angles. The overview image, from December 8, shows the entire Antarctic Peninsula -- home to Larsen A, B, and C ice shelves -- in natural color (similar to how it would appear to the human eye) from MISR's vertical-viewing camera.

Combining information from several MISR cameras pointed at different angles gives information about the texture of the ice. The accompanying GIF depicts the inset area shown on the larger image and displays data from all three dates in false color. These multiangular views -- composited from MISR's 46-degree backward-pointing camera, the nadir (vertical-viewing) camera, and the 46-degree forward-pointing camera -- represent variations in ice texture as changes in color, such that areas of rough ice appear orange and smooth ice appears blue. The Larsen C shelf is on the left in the GIF, bordered by the Weddell Sea on the upper right. The ice within the rift is orange, indicating movement, and the end of the rift can be tracked across the shelf between images. In addition, between December and April, the rift widened, pushing the future iceberg away from the shelf at its southern end.

These data were acquired during Terra orbits 88717, 90290 and 92023. Other MISR data are available through the NASA Langley Research Center. For more information go to MISR was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Terra spacecraft is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. The MISR data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center Atmospheric Science Data Center, Hampton, Virginia. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.