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The break will sweep away about 10 per cent of the ice shelf's total area, and scientists have previously speculated that the shelf will become increasingly unstable after this point.
“We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was before the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event,” Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, a leader at Project Midas, said in a statement.
Another branch has appeared in a huge crack on one of Antarctica's largest ice shelves, and scientists fear it's only a matter of time before a huge chunk - potentially containing up to 2,000 square miles of ice - breaks away.
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Scientists have been closely monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a large rift in the ice - now about 111 miles long - has been advancing in rapid bursts in recent years.
Between the beginning of December and the middle of January alone, the crack lengthened by about 17 miles. Over the past few months, scientists have noticed that the crack has stopped extending in length but has continued to widen at a rate of more than three feet per day. And now, scientists have noticed a worrying development: a new branch has split off from the main rift, about six miles below the tip of the original crack, and has splintered off in the direction of the ocean. Altogether, only about 12 miles of ice now stand in the way of the whole chunk splitting off into the sea.
While researchers have explored several possible scenarios for the ice shelf's future, its ultimate fate may still depend on a number of factors.
As One recent study points out that the key question is whether the ice that's lost from the shelf will be “passive ice,” which doesn't play a significant role in holding back the flow of the glacier behind it, or whether the break will remove ice from a critical stabilising zone, unleashing a flood of ice.