Antarctica's Changing Ice Shelf

The Larsen Ice Shelf of the Antarctic Peninsula was subject to an event that alarmed many scientists with regards to climate change. This ice shelf used to be made up of three separate shelves, called Larsen A (smallest), Larsen B, and Larsen C (biggest). Ice shelves are typically known to break up due to melting on the upper and lower surfaces and by iceberg calving. The Larsen shelves disintegrated into the sea at much faster rates than have been recorded.

Larsen B shelf disintegrated between January 31 and March 7 of 2002. Warm currents ate away at the underside of its shelf, and a Rhode Island-size piece of its mass broke off in just three days, the speed of which astonished glacier scientists. The shelf was 3,250 square kilometers and 200 meters thick.

Although global warming is held responsible for the quick disintegration of Larsen B, temperatures in interior Antarctica have actually been falling. Some evidence also shows that on the opposite side of the Peninsula from Larsen, the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has halted.