Larsen, Shackleton and Global Warming

The Larsen C Ice Shelf has been in the news lately because a section of it larger than Rhode Island is on the verge of breaking off. This ice shelf is the fourth largest in Antarctica. The rapid acceleration of the 300 meter deep fissure in this ice shelf is undoubtedly related to global warming. Temperatures are rising faster in Antarctica than any other place on the globe. The main concern with the loss of an ice shelf is that it acts as a dam holding back land ice and it is the melting of the land ice that will have the most dramatic effect on sea levels.

The ice shelf is named after Carl Anton Larsen who was a Norwegian ship captain that discovered the ice shelf which bears his name in 1893. He was the first person to ski in Antarctica and the first to discover fossils there indicating that Antarctica was once part of a large warmer continent.

Larsen and Shackleton had parallel and intersecting lives. Like Shackleton, Larsen's ship, the Antarctic, was crushed in the Weddell Sea ice pack in 1903, forcing him and his crew to row lifeboats to Paulet Island where he and his crew survived over the winter by eating seals and penguins before being rescued by an Argentinian ship.

Larsen founded Grytviken, the whaling station on South Georgia Island, where Shackleton ended up after his heroic 800 mile journey from Elephant Island by lifeboat and foot. Shackleton and his men most likely would have died if they had not been able to reach this nearest outpost of civilization. Shackleton and the whalers made several attempts to sail to Elephant Island to rescue the bulk of his crew, but kept having to turn back because of storms and the impenetrable icepack. Three months later they finally succeeded.

Larsen championed the building of a Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1913 that remains in use to this day. It is the same church where the funeral services were held for Shackleton when he died in 1922. Shackleton was buried on South Georgia Island. Larsen died two years later while whaling in the Ross Sea.