New Delhi: Latest satellite observations reveal the rift in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica now has a second branch.
Scientists fear the new branch that has appeared in a huge crack on one of Antarctica's largest ice shelves could be about to break.
If the huge crack - which makes about the size of Rhode Island – breaks away, the ice shelf may become increasingly unstable and could even fall apart.
Radar mapping shows that the second crack has split off from the main rupture like a snake’s forked tongue, members of the Antarctic research group Project MIDAS reported May 1.
The main rift in the Larsen C ice shelf now stretches a whopping 180 km long. The new branch of the rift is 15 km long.
According to scientist, the break off could mean creating a 2000 square mile slab of ice, which is one of the largest icebergs ever recorded
Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University College of Science, head of Project Midas, described the latest findings: "While the previous rift tip has not advanced, a new branch of the rift has been initiated. This is approximately 10km behind the previous tip, heading towards the ice-front.
(The Larsen C ice rift aerial view. Credit: John Sonntag/NASA)
This is the first significant change to the rift since February of this year. Although the rift length has been static for several months, it has been steadily widening, at rates in excess of a metre per day.
Larsen C is approximately 350m thick and floats on the seas at the edge of West Antarctica, holding back the flow of glaciers that feed into it, the researchers said.
If either branch makes it to Larsen C’s edge, the shelf could calve off a 5,000-square-kilometer hunk of ice, creating one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, added glaciologist Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in Wales.