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This Nov. 10, 2016 aerial photo released by NASA, shows a rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf. According to NASA, IceBridge scientists measured the Larsen C fracture to be about 70 miles long, more than 300 feet wide and about a third of a mile deep. (John Sonntag/NASA via AP)

This crack in an Antarctic ice shelf is growing. Here's what happens if it breaks off.



WATCH  | This crack in an Antarctic ice shelf is growing. Here's what happens if it breaks off.

A huge crack in an Antarctic ice shelf now has a second branch, researchers announced Monday. 

The main crack in the Larsen C ice shelf is already 110 miles long. 

"The iceberg is likely to break free within the next few months simply because the leverage of 175km (108 miles) of the iceberg on 20km (12 miles) of what remains connected to the ice shelf is overwhelming," Adrian Luckman with the British research group, Project Midas, explained in a blog post. 

Although there hasn't been a significant change in the length of the crack in several months, Project Midas noted on its website that the crack has been steadily widening at a rate of about 3 feet per day.

When it calves, which is the scientific term for ice breaking off of an ice shelf, it will create an iceberg approximately the size of  Delaware, making it one of the largest ever recorded. It will also change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. But what's more important is what happens when the ice shelf is no longer in its place. 

What is an ice shelf?
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Most of the world's ice shelves hug the coast of Antarctica, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Ice shelves are permanent, floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass so they don't directly contribute to sea level rise when an iceberg breaks off. 

But they do contribute indirectly, which is bad news for just about everyone. Flooding is an obvious consequence of sea level rise, but it could also affect everything from our drinking water to wildlife populations, according to Business Insider.


"Ice streams and glaciers constantly push on ice shelves, but the shelves eventually come up against coastal features such as islands and peninsulas, building pressure that slows their movement into the ocean. If an ice shelf collapses, the backpressure disappears," according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center

But when an ice shelf collapses, glaciers that fed into it are able to flow more quickly into the sea. Unlike ice shelves, glaciers are land-based, so they do contribute to sea level rise. 

Larsen C Ice Shelf

What causes an ice shelf to collapse? 

At this point, Project MIDAS says there isn't enough information to determine whether what's happening on Larsen C is related to climate change. There is, however, scientific evidence that shows "climate change has caused thinning of the ice shelf." 

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center say waning sea ice around the Antartic Peninsula may have also contributed to recent collapses. 

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