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After Antarctica sheds a trillion-ton block of ice, the world asks: Now what?

A hunk of ice the size of Delaware broke off from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Sometime in the last few days, scientists say an iceberg weighing roughly a trillion metric tons separated from the Larsen C Ice Shelf and began its long, slow drift northward through the Weddell Sea.

The 2,400 square-mile mass of ice won’t immediately raise sea levels, but its loss has probably altered the profile of the continent’s western peninsula for decades to come.

The Larsen Ice Shelf consists of a series of many floating ice chunks. It is named for Norwegian explorer Capt. Carl Anton Larsen, who discovered it in 1893.

By the time it was first photographed in the 1960s, the fateful crack was already visible, according to NASA.

RELATED | An iceberg the size of Delaware just broke off of Antarctica »

But in 2014, the crack began to grow — and fast. It eventually expanded into a 124-mile-wide semicircular rift, with the iceberg holding on to the peninsula by a thread of ice less than 3 miles wide a month before it broke away.

The break was first detected by Project MIDAS, an Antarctic research group at Swansea University and Aberystwyth University, both in Wales. The project uses data from NASA’s Aqua satellite.

The release of this iceberg has reduced Larsen C, the largest ice shelf in the Larsen formation and the fourth-largest on the continent, by more than 12%. Scientists says the remaining ice shelf could now be less stable, which could pave the way for a more severe event: disintegration.

“This ice shelf is on the trajectory to collapse in the coming decades,” said Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine glaciologist and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

Here’s what you need to know about the break:

What’s an ice shelf anyway?

Ice shelves are thick platforms of ice that float on the surface of the ocean.

As ice sheets on land accumulate heavy packs of snow, these formations flow downhill to the sea, forming a “shelf.”

Ice shelves naturally shed weight in the form of icebergs through a process called calving, or via melting on the bottom.

“That’s just the way Antarctica works,” said Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies the Larsen C and other ice shelves.

One way to know if a shelf is healthy is to see if it’s gaining as much ice as it’s losing. If a large enough iceberg calves off, the entire shelf could collapse. That’s what happened with Larsen A in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002.

The iceberg that formed from Larsen C wasn’t abnormally large, Fricker said. It was only about half the size of one that calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000: a 4,200-square-mile hunk of ice the size of Jamaica.

What’s worrisome about Larsen C’s calving is the possibility that it will lead to the collapse of the entire shelf, but scientists think that’s probably decades away. In the coming months and years, scientists will watch the area for signs of regrowth or more calving events, said Adrian Luckman, project leader for Project MIDAS and a glaciologist at Swansea University.

The iceberg itself probably will break into pieces, with some remaining in the vicinity and others drifting north into warmer waters.

Rignot isn’t optimistic that the ice shelf will recover. He noted that it has now retreated further than it has in the last 100 years.

“More bergs will detach, it will become weaker and eventually fall apart in a domino effect,” he said.

(Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory)

Does this mean sea level will rise?

The calving of this particular iceberg will not directly cause sea levels to rise.

In fact, the ice shelf already raised sea levels centuries ago when it first flowed from the continent into the ocean.

But Larsen C, which is nearly half a mile thick at its largest point, is holding back piles of ice and glaciers on land behind it, Rignot said.

“It’s like uncorking a bottle,” Rignot said. “These ice shelves are really plugs for future sea level rise.”

Scientists with Project MIDAS warn that if the ice shelf loses much more area, it could allow more glaciers to flow into the ocean, impacting sea levels at a “modest rate,” they said in a statement.

Larsen A and Larsen B held back relatively little land ice, Rignot said. However, if all the glacial ice behind Larsen C melted away, it would be equal to almost half an inch of sea level rise.

Farther south on the peninsula, unplugging larger ice shelves would have more severe impacts on sea level rise. For example, the George VI Ice Shelf on the peninsula’s south side holds back 11 inches of equivalent sea level rise.

This NASA/USGS animation shows the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf growing from 2006 to 2017.This NASA/USGS animation shows the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf growing from 2006 to 2017. (NASA/USGS Landsat)

Is climate change to blame?

Scientists do not agree on whether the calving of Larsen C can be linked to climate change.

Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at Swansea and Project MIDAS, said in the statement that the calving was a natural event.

“We’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change,” he said.

However, Dan McGrath, a glaciologist at Colorado State University, said the rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula helped fuel the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves. While scientists haven’t made a direct connection between the rift on Larsen C and climate change, it’s not out of the question, he said in a NASA statement.

“There are definitely mechanisms by which this rift could be linked to climate change, most notably through warmer ocean waters eating away at the base of the shelf,” he said.

A composite of multiple images show a wider part of the rift in the Larsen C on Nov. 10, 2016.A composite of multiple images show a wider part of the rift in the Larsen C on Nov. 10, 2016. (NASA)

Rignot said the latest calving event, which took a 25-mile-wide bite out of the ice shelf, shows how the climate interacts with Antarctica.

“This is a proxy for what is looming ahead as climate keeps warming up,” he said. “This is not a natural cycle. This is a process of disintegration of ice around the Antarctic.”

Between 1990 and 2009, Larsen C was growing thinner, but in recent years the shelf has almost returned to its previous thickness, according to an analysis by Fricker. The problem is that reliable data go back only about 25 years, but the iceberg calving process occurs over a 50-year period, scientists estimate.

“We’re looking at things that have long time scales that we have been only observing for a short length of time,” she said. The latest calving event may turn out to be “a precursor to a collapse. We’re just not going to know that until time goes on.”

Scientists will learn more in the coming months as they observe how the shelf’s thickness and velocity change post-iceberg.

“It’s still winter down there,” Fricker said. “For the next six months, the ice shelf is going to be completely fine.”

sean.greene@latimes.com

@seangreene89

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These are the stories of 29 rave-goers who died of drug-related causes

There have been at least 29 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide since 2006 among people who went to raves organized by Los Angeles-area companies. Fifteen have died in Southern California — seven in San Bernardino County and eight in Los Angeles County — and six in the Las Vegas area.

Here are their stories:


(Family photo)

Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson, 18, of El Cajon died Sept. 3, 2006, after collapsing at Insomniac Inc.’s Nocturnal Wonderland at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. The Grossmont College student became separated from his friend during the rave, according to interviews and a coroner’s report, and was seen by onlookers having a seizure. The coroner’s office said his body temperature reached 107 degrees. It concluded that the cause of death was Ecstasy toxicity.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee, a 20-year-old UC Irvine student, died Nov. 2, 2007, after attending Go Ventures Inc.’s Halloween-themed Monster Massive at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. She collapsed at the rave and her body temperature rose to 108 degrees, according to the coroner’s report. The coroner ruled her death was caused by multiple drug toxicity, citing use of Ecstasy and amphetamines.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

William On

William On, 23, of Monterey Park died Jan. 4, 2008, after overdosing at the Together as One rave at the Sports Arena. The New Year’s rave was jointly produced by Insomniac and Go Ventures. On suffered seizures during the concert and his temperature topped 107, the coroner found. The cause of death was Ecstasy intoxication, abnormally high temperature and multiple organ system failure.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Michael Phuc Nguyen

Michael Phuc Nguyen, a 23-year-old Anaheim resident, died Oct. 26, 2008, after attending Go Ventures’ Monster Massive rave at the Sports Arena. Nguyen was found “face-down and unresponsive,” the coroner report said. Nguyen never regained consciousness. The coroner attributed the death to multiple drug intoxication. Ecstasy and methamphetamine were found in his blood.


John Cramer

John Cramer, 23, a Pierce College student who lived in Canoga Park, died Sept. 27, 2009, after attending Nocturnal Festival at the National Orange Show Events Center. At the rave, his friends found him having seizure-like activity, the coroner’s report said. At the emergency room, his body temperature hit 107 degrees and his heart failed. The coroner said the cause of death was Ecstasy toxicity.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Daniel Cyriaco

Daniel Cyriaco, 24, a Los Angeles computer programmer, died Jan. 1, 2010, after attending the Together as One rave at the Sports Arena. Cyriaco, who grew up in Beverly Hills and Brazil, was dropped off about 4 a.m. at his home, where a friend that evening found him unresponsive and cold to the touch. The coroner’s office concluded the cause of death was multiple drug intoxication. It said friends told investigators Cyriaco took Ecstasy at the rave. Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin were found in his system, according to the toxicology report.


(Garden City Community College)

Jesse Morales

Jesse Morales, a 22-year-old Midwestern State University student from Garden City, Kan., died June 23, 2010, after going to Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival at Dallas’ Fair Park, home to the State Fair of Texas. The medical examiner said that Morales collapsed at the rave and was admitted to the emergency room with a temperature of 108 degrees. The medical examiner said Morales died as the result of amphetamine toxicity.


(Family photo)

Sasha Rodriguez

Sasha Rodriguez, 15, a high school drill team member from Los Angeles, died June 29, 2010, after attending Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Rodriguez passed out during the rave and was in respiratory arrest after arriving at the hospital, according to interviews and the coroner’s report. She suffered shocked lungs and brain damage, the report said. The cause of death was Ecstasy intoxication and a resulting failure to receive enough oxygen to the brain.


(Texas Department of Public Safety)

Andrew Graf

Andrew Graf, a 19-year-old Texas A&M sophomore from Argyle, Texas, died June 18, 2011, after attending Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival at Dallas’ Fair Park. The student told friends he was not feeling well. He had seizure activity and was in cardiac arrest by the time paramedics arrived, the medical examiner’s report said. It said that Graf “died as the result of toxic effects of amphetamine” and that Ecstasy was used at the rave.


(Texas Department of Public Safety)

Kyle Haigis

Kyle Haigis, 22, of Sherman, Texas, died June 19, 2011, after leaving the Electric Daisy Carnival in Dallas. The former Arkansas Tech University student was in a friend’s car when he started acting irrationally, according to police. Haigis jumped out of the car and was struck by a semi, said John Cherry, police chief of Howe, Texas. A toxicology report showed that Haigis had “Foxy,” an illegal hallucinogen used at raves, in his system. A friend said Haigis took the drug at the rave, Cherry said.


Gregory Fitcher

Gregory Fitcher, 32, of Hope, Ark., died April 29, 2012, after attending Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland rave in Milam County, Texas. According to the Milam County sheriff’s office, Fitcher had a seizure in a parking area at the rave and stopped breathing. The coroner’s report said Fitcher died of mixed drug toxicity. It identified several drugs in his system that have effects similar to those of Ecstasy.


(Tarryn Mento / The Arizona Republic)

Emily McCaughan

Emily McCaughan, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz., died June 11, 2012, after attending the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. According to news reports quoting a family friend, the University of Arizona student suffered paranoid delusions at the concert. Believing someone was after her, the reports said, she returned alone to her Circus Circus hotel room, sent panicked Facebook messages and apparently squeezed through the window, falling more than 20 stories to her death. A coroner’s official told The Times that McCaughan had Ecstasy, methamphetamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid in her system.


Olivier Hennessy

Olivier Hennessy, a 31-year-old resident of Ponce Inlet, Fla., died June 16, 2012, after leaving the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The UC Irvine graduate and tech entrepreneur was hit by a pickup truck after staggering into traffic outside the speedway, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19% and marijuana and hydrocodone in his system.


Michael Benway Jr.

Michael Benway Jr., 37, of East Haven, Conn., died June 29, 2012, while attending Electric Forest, a four-day festival near Rothbury, Mich. The event is a joint presentation of Insomniac and Madison House, a Colorado booking firm. Michigan State Police Lt. Kevin Leavitt said Benway was found dead at his concert campsite. A coroner’s report said Benway died of heart inflammation and oxycodone and amphetamine toxicity.


Joseph Bud Norris

Joseph Bud Norris, 21, died from an acute heroin toxicity while working at the Electric Forest festival in Michigan in June 2013. The festival was cosponsored by Insominiac.


(Los Angeles Times)

Arrel Christopher Cochon

Arrel Christopher Cochon, 22, died of an Ectasy and methamphetamine overdose in September 2013 after collapsing and suffering a seizure at Insomniac Inc.’s Nocturnal Wonderland concert in Devore. Cochon, who worked at Whole Foods in the Fairfax district and dreamed of becoming an aeronautics engineer, had broad musical tastes — including Bob Marley and Michael Buble. It was no surprise that he wanted to check out the all-day Nocturnal Wonderland, his mother said.


Montgomery Tsang

Montgomery Tsang, 24, of San Leandro collapsed and died outside the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on June 21, 2014. Investigators determined he died of “acute MDMA toxicity” and also suffered from “cardiac enlargement,” officials said.


Anthony Anaya

Anthony Anaya, 25, of Everett, Wash., who went to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas in June 2014, was found unconscious in his hotel room and died at Spring Valley Hospital of alcohol, Ecstasy and cocaine toxicity, according to the coroner.


Brian Alan Brockette

Brian Alan Brockette, 20, a volunteer at the Electric Forest festival in Michigan, cosponsored by Los Angeles-based Insominac, died on June 29, 2014, of acute toxicity from the drug Ecstasy, officials said.


Emily Tran

Emily Tran, 19, died Aug. 4, 2014, after attending the Hard Summer music festival at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area. Coroner’s officials determined her cause of death to be acute Ecstasy toxicity. Tran was taken to the hospital after she went to the health tent at the festival.



(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

John Hoang Dinh Vo

John Hoang Dinh Vo, 22, of San Diego died of an Ectasy overdose on March 20, 2015. Vo went into cardiac arrest after suffering a possible seizure at Insomniac’s Beyond Wonderland rave in San Bernardino County. The official cause of death was acute toxicity from MDMA, the chemical name of Ecstasy. Vo was in his senior year at UC Irvine and studying biology.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Nicholas Austin Tom

Nicholas Austin Tom, 24, of San Francisco died while attending the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on June 21, 2015. A coroner determined the cause of his death to be Ecstasy toxicity. Tom graduated from UC Irvine in 2013 with a degree in biological sciences and worked as a medical assistant at UC San Francisco Medical Center.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Katie Dix

Katie Dix, 19, of Camarillo died Aug. 1, 2015, of multiple drug intoxication after being found unresponsive and rushed to a hospital while attending the Hard Summer music festival at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds in Pomona. Dix graduated from Coronado High School in San Diego County in 2014.


(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Tracy Nguyen

Tracy Nguyen, 18, of West Covina died from an Ecstasy overdose on Aug. 1, 2015, after attending the Hard Summer music festival at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds in Pomona. Nguyen suffered a seizure and became pulseless as she was rushed to San Dimas Community Hospital, the coroner said. She was about to enter her second year at UCLA, where she studied pre-business economics.


Kenani Kaimuloa

Kenani Kaimuloa, 20, a native of Oceanside, Calif., died from the combined effects of Ecstasy and cocaine intoxication, with heat stress a contributing factor, according to the Clark County coroner. Kaimuloa, who attended the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was waiting for a shuttle bus on June 20, 2016, when she collapsed and went into convulsions. Her heart later stopped, and she was pronounced dead two days later. Temperatures in the hours before she collapsed had climbed to 109 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. 


Michael Stephenson

Michael John Stephenson, 22, of Lansing, Mich., died of acute cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine toxicity after attending the five-day Electric Forest Festival in Michigan. According to Michigan State Police, Stephenson was found in his tent by his travelmates on the morning of June 27, 2016, as festival attendees packed up to leave the site. Medical personnel and police were summoned, but resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. 


Alyssa Dominguez

Alyssa Dominguez, 21, a San Diego State student, died from acute Ecstasy toxicity, according to the San Bernardino County coroner. Dominguez, who attended the Hard Summer music festival at the Auto Club Speedway in an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County near Fontana, was said to have taken an Ecstasy pill twice on the rave’s first night. She appeared fine until about 1:30 a.m. on July 31, when she and her friends were in a car leaving the venue’s parking lot. She began to ramble incoherently in the back seat, and, about half an hour later, she became unresponsive. When her friends checked on her, she had no pulse.


Derek Lee

Derek Lee, 22, of San Francisco, died from acute Ecstasy toxicity, according to the San Bernardino County coroner. Lee attended the Hard Summer music festival at the Auto Club Speedway near Fontana, and was declared dead on July 31, 2016. 


Roxanne Ngo

Roxanne Ngo, 22, of Chino Hills, who was working on a degree in public policy at UC Riverside and was an intern for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, died from acute Ecstasy toxicity, according to the San Bernardino County coroner. Ngo, who attended Hard Summer near Fontana, suffered a seizure and became unresponsive at the venue, and was found by paramedics in cardiac arrest. Despite efforts at the hospital to try to cool down her body from a temperature of 104 degrees, she went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead shortly after 3 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2016.


UPDATES:

Dec. 1, 2016: This article has been updated with the death of Michael John Stephenson.

Nov. 30, 2016: This article has been updated with the deaths of Alyssa Dominguez, Derek Lee and Roxanne Ngo.

This article was originally published on Aug. 1, 2016.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times