A crack in the Larsen-C ice shelf in on the Antarctic Peninsula first appeared several years ago, but recently it has been lengthening faster than before. Carrying radar that can ‘see’ through the dark, the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites are monitoring the situation. The animation shows that the fissure has opened around 60 km since January last year. And, since the beginning of this January it has split a further 20 km so that the 350 m-thick shelf is held only by a thread. The crack now extends around 175 km.
When the ice shelf calves this iceberg it will be one of the largest ever recorded – but exactly how long this will take is difficult to predict. The neighbouring Larsen-A and Larsen-B ice shelves suffered a similar fate with dramatic calving events in 1995 and 2002, respectively.
These ice shelves are important because they act as buttresses, holding back the ice that flows towards the sea.
The Sentinel-1 two-satellite constellation is indispensable for discovering and monitoring events like these because it continues to deliver radar images when Antarctica is shrouded in darkness for several months of the year.