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Aberyswtyth researchers visit ice shelf twice the size of Wales in attempt to understand break up

04 Nov 2022 2 minute read
Aberystwyth academics researching on the Larsen C Ice Shelf

Aberystwyth researchers are visiting an ice shelf twice the size of Wales to investigate how and why it’s breaking up.

As the name suggests, the Larsen C ice shelf is the latest iteration of an ice shelf that has been breaking into multiple pieces off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

While researchers know the disintegration is caused by climate change, current models cannot predict when these rifts in ice shelves occur, how they develop and when the shelves themselves break up.

Ice shelves are the floating edges of ice sheets that disintegrate when rifts open and slabs of ice fall off to form icebergs, contributing to rising sea levels.

Professor Bryn Hubbard from Aberystwyth University said: “This research is critical in the development of models which can predict the role that ice shelf rifting plays in the future of the Antarctic ice sheets.

“At the Larsen C Ice Shelf, down-flow of Joerg Peninsula, we will use various techniques and instruments to record the nature of suture zone ice, investigate ongoing rift activity, and measure changes since previous surveys.”

‘Develop models’

The team’s research will examine how rifts develop quickly through cold, hard ‘meteoric’ ice, but are halted in warmer and softer areas, known as ‘suture zone ice’.

They will camp at three sites on the Larsen C Ice Shelf to carry out a series of experiments. These include using snow scooter-towed radars, hot water drilling and installing fibre-optic cables into boreholes to record ice temperatures.

Estimated to cover around fifty to sixty-five thousand square kilometres, the Larsen C Ice Shelf is well over twice the size of Wales.

Dr Katie Miles, who is another member of the Aberystwyth University research team, added: “Understanding these changes and how they will affect sea level rise is critical to the future of the region and our entire planet.

“The radar and drilling research will help us characterise the physical properties of suture zone ice and its impact on rift propagation.

“This will help us develop models showing how the rifting processes influence the Antarctic as a whole.”

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