A Delaware-sized sheet of ice is about to break off from the Antarctic shelf

A Delaware-sized sheet of ice is about to break off from the Antarctic shelf
Source: AP
Source: AP

If the possible demon captured in a viral photo at the start of 2017 weren't enough of a sign of end times, then consider this: A Delaware-sized portion of the Antarctic ice shelf is poised to break off and float away.

According to the Huffington Post, the departing chunk of ice is part of what's known as the Larsen C shelf, the site of a crack that got significantly larger in the latter half of 2016. When the 2,000-square-mile iceberg finally breaks off, it will leave the remaining mass in a rather tenuous state. But scientists still can't say for sure what the long-term consequences will be.

"We would expect in the ensuing months to years further calving events, and maybe an eventual collapse — but it's a very hard thing to predict, and our models say it will be less stable; not that it will immediately collapse or anything like that," Adrian Luckman, a geography professor at Swansea University, told the BBC.

In better news, NASA scientists say the the split won't directly contribute to rising sea levels. Still, the rift could expose other glaciers to warm ocean waters, resulting in melt and, ultimately, the same result.

As it is, scientists have revised their previous predictions of how much sea levels will rise and doubled them to account for Antarctica's historical impact.

"Global mean sea level has been 6 to 9 meters higher as recently as the Last Interglacial (130,000 to 115,000 years ago) and possibly higher during the Pliocene epoch (about 3 million years ago)," the March study explains.

"In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability."

According to the report, the seal level will rise 6 feet by 2100 and over 49 feet by 2500. 

In other words: It would be an understatement to call the imminent rupture of the Antarctic shelf a bad breakup. 

Jan. 6, 2017, 10:57 a.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.

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Marie Solis

Marie is a staff writer with a focus in feminist issues. Her writing has appeared in Gothamist and the Awl. You can reach her at marie@mic.com.

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