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Oh Larsen B

By Matti Gregory

"You've had 12,000 years but now it's all over"

Larsen B is, as the Open Season track rather suggests, a large Antarctic ice shelf, most notable for the state of calving (where parts of an ice shelf, in the area known as the calving area, break off into the sea and create icebergs) which it is currently in. As the song states, it is approximately 12,000 years old, but is losing hundreds of square kilometres of ice per year as icebergs and is as such reaching the end of its life span.

The process of calving in Larsen B increases in speed due to the "melt ponds" (which can be seen in the true colour satellite picture above) which can cause water to seep into small fissures in the surface, causing pressure inside the ice which can crack the ice. Larsen B is approximately 3250km˛ in size (larger than the country of Luxembourg and only slightly smaller than the whole of Cambridgeshire), and its rapid collapse is particularly noteworthy as it is a by-product of unprecedented warming in the Antarctic region over the last 50 years – essentially, Larsen B provides clear proof of the effects of global warming. The temperature around the South Pole has actually risen by 2.5°c in the last half century, considerably higher than the mean increase worldwide, and the retreat of Larsen B is merely the most wide-spread of many ice shelves which are gradually declining.

As Larsen B is already floating, its destruction will not result in a rise in sea level (which could only be caused by the destruction of an ice shelf which had been holding back water in either polar region), but nevertheless is being used by the British Antarctic Survey (the scientific programme which predicted the demise of the polar ice shelves in the south) to create statistical models to help understand the future of the polar ice caps.

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