Seasonal sea ice breaks away from the Antarctic Peninsula  •

Seasonal sea ice breaks away from the Antarctic Peninsula 

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features sea ice breaking up along the Antarctic Peninsula and drifting out into the Weddell Sea.

“With the arrival of summer in the southern hemisphere, sea ice that clung to the Antarctic Peninsula through austral winter 2023 is now letting go,” said NASA.

The image was captured on December 19, 2023 by the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The photograph is centered on the Larsen A and B embayments on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The embayments are named for the ice shelves that once floated here as part of the greater Larsen Ice Shelf. In the past three decades, two large sections of the ice shelf (Larsen A and B) have collapsed: Larsen A in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002.” 

“Instead of ice shelves – the floating extension of glacial ice from land – the Larsen A and B embayments now often contain seasonal sea ice – frozen seawater that floats on the ocean surface, often covered with snow. Much of this sea ice, known as ‘fast ice,’ clings to coastlines and ice shelves.” 

According to NASA, fast ice can help resist against the seaward flow of glaciers on land and slow their contribution to sea level rise, but it is less effective at this buffering effect compared to a much thicker ice shelf.

“Sea ice that grows over the course of a single winter, also known as first-year sea ice, often breaks up and clears out of the Larsen A embayment in summer,” said NASA.

“This season, by December 19, the transition became noticeable when meltwater (blue) pooled atop parts of the fast ice. By January 1, the ice had fractured and drifted freely into the Weddell Sea.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

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