The Conger ice shelf has collapsed in Antarctica amid record temperatures

25 Mar 2022

Satellite view of Antarctica in 2011. Image: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

This is the third iceberg calving recorded this month as Antarctica experienced temperatures 40 degrees Celsius higher than normal.

The Conger ice shelf – which is roughly the size of Rome – has collapsed into the ocean while Antarctica experienced unusually high temperatures.

The Conger ice shelf had an approximate surface area of 1,200 sq km and collapsed on roughly 15 March, according to satellite imagery. The result is a new iceberg, which has been named C-38 according to the US National Ice Center (USNIC).

Future Human

“C-38 comprised virtually all that remained of the Conger ice shelf, which was adjacent to the Glenzer ice shelf which calved last week as iceberg C-37,” USNIC said in a statement.

Both the Arctic and Antarctica have been facing unusually high temperatures in recent days. According to Lagrange Laboratory, a record temperature of minus 12 degrees Celsius was recorded on 18 March at Concordia Station in the heart of Antarctica. The laboratory said this is more than 40 degrees Celsius warmer than seasonal norms.

The record temperatures are thought to have been caused by a combination of factors including strong winds coming from Australia and an atmospheric river, which are flowing regions of the atmosphere that carry water vapour and can bring warm air to certain locations.

Alarm bells were raised at the end of 2021, as the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that temperatures taken last year in both Arctic and Antarctic regions were the highest recorded at the time.

Iceberg calving on the rise

The loss of the Conger ice shelf is the third iceberg calving event in east Antarctica this month. Professor of glaciology at Scripps Polar Center, Helen Amanda Fricker, said iceberg calving events are a natural part of the “checks and balances” of the Antarctic ice sheet, as it has to shed the mass it gains from snowfall.

“But since there was also an extreme warming event around this time, obviously we do need to examine if there is a link,” Fricker said on Twitter.

Ice shelves cover a massive portion of Antarctica’s coastline and play a vital role the stability of the continent’s ice sheet and its mass balance.

Satellite view of Antarctica, taken in 2011. Image: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com