Huge crack in Antarctic Larsen C Ice Shelf signals collapse


Broadcast on Drivetime RTE Radio 1 on 8th May 2017

Crack in Larsen C

A large, widening crack has appeared in the Larsen B Ice Shelf [Credit: British Antarctic Survey]

If a 180 km crack was appearing across continental Europe there may be a sense of public panic. Well, that’s just what is happening across another continent, in Antarctica, where scientists early this year spotted a crack in a lump of floating ice called the Larsen C ice shelf, which is about twice the size of Wales.

A secondary crack, or fork, has now appeared in Larsen C, leaving just 20km of solid ice left preventing it from total collapse. Scientists believe that nothing can now stop the collapse of Larsen C, and when it does break up it will be even more dramatic than the break up of the nearby Larsen B ice shelf in 2002.


In February, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey reported that they had found a large crack, about 180 km – about the distance between Dublin and Galway – in an ice shelf called the Larsen C Ice Shelf.

This crack has been monitored by scientists over the past few months and they have found that it is widening. More recently, a fork has split away from the main crack, and this secondary crack is heading straight for the open ocean.

The continent of Antarctica is famous, among scientists at least, for having several large shelves of ice around its coastline. These ice shelves are huge, floating platforms of ice, which form i the ocean and are fed ice from the continental landmass.

The Larsen C ice shelf is part of the larger Larsen ice shelf, which is one of the largest in Antarctica and has been breaking up now for a number of decades. The Larsen B, ice shelf, which was about the size of Rhode Island, some people may recall, broke away in 2002.

The area is closely watched by scientists interested in climate change because the western side of Antarctica is the fastest warming area of the world, and an indicate of how fast climate change is happening.


The ice shelves of western Antarctica were stable for 10,000 years, and it is only in the last 30 years that they have started to break up.

Scientists are very concerned, as with just 20km of ice for the breakaway fork to travel to get to the sea, the breakup of Larsen C appears to be close. When Larsen C breaks away, it will produce the largest iceberg in history, which will be cleaved off the Larsen ice shelf to float off into the southern ocean around Antarctica.

The fact that ice shelves float in the ocean means they are susceptible to changes in ocean temperature. Scientists know that the temperature of the oceans is heating up, and this heat is being transferred, they believe, to the bottom of ice shelves, which can make the ice unstable, fracture and break.

There have been cycles of ice shelves forming, and breaking away throughout Earth’s history, with repeated cycles of warming and cooling. At one point, for example, during the last ice age a large ice sheet existed off the west coast of Ireland.

What is worrying scientists is that the current fracture of Larsen C is mimicking the processes that led to the breakup of Larsen A and B. In those cases there was destabilisation of the front of the ice shelf, where the ice cliffs – as big as the cliffs of moher – meet the open water.

Scientists, like Dr Paul Dunlop, who has studied glaciers, and is based at the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Ulster University, Coleraine, is worried that what’s happening could be a sign of something bigger, and far more serious.

Another worry is that if the Larsen ice shelf breaks away that this will expose land based glaciers to the open ocean, meaning they will melt faster.

At the moment, the ice shelves in the western Antarctica are acting like a buffer between the glaciers and the sea, but if that goes, it may be something akin to pulling the plug out of a bath.


It tells us that the waters underneath the ice shelves in the western Antarctica are warming. That is worrying because the deep waters around Antarctica were considered to be the last ocean locations to experience global warming, but that now appears to be happening, as deep cold water, cycles up and is warmed.

There will still be climate deniers that will say that the breakup of Larsen C is simply part of a cycle of the formation and breakup of ice shelves that has gone on for millions of years, and that it is not linked to climate change. However, this view is simply that and it is not remotely credible to climate scientists.

Climate scientists believe that the deep ocean waters around Antarctica are starting to warm and that is the source of the problem. This is part of a pattern going in recent decades not just in Antarctic, but around the world,  with Alpine and Himalayan glaciers retreating and the Greenland ice sheet thinning for example.


Earlier this year, a British scientific team had been on the Larsen C ice shelf, surveying the seafloor beneath. The information they gathered, and other data, suggested that a break up was likely, so they decided not to set up camp on the ice as would be normal practice. Instead, they made one-off airplane trips from the UK’s Rothera Research Station, as it was considered too dangerous to stay.

It’s getting pretty dangerous for scientists on Antarctica, especially those working on the ice shelves around the continent. In January, the Halley VI British Antarctic Station was shifted – on skis – to a safe remove on health and safety grounds as a result of a crack in the Brunt Ice Shelf that was growing in size just to the north of their futuristic modular facility. The designers deliberately designed the base so that it would sit on stilts with skis and could be moved if required.

Dr Louise Allock, senior lecturer in Zoology at NUI Galway has visited Antarctica for her research into octopuses, corals and sea pens many times over the last 15 to 20 years, and was on a research vessel in the southern ocean off Antarctica when the Larsen B shelf dramatically collapsed in 2002.

She told me what scientists will be watching closely – as the Larsen C collapses – so see whether this has the potential to cause large scale ice shelf collapse.

Is your cat dangerous? Microsoft aiming to ‘solve’ cancer problem; First human head transplant planned; Obesity gene & weight loss

This interview was first broadcast on the 22nd September 2016 on East Coast FM’s The Morning Show with Declan Meehan


Are cats a risk for to your mental and physical health, or have the risks been overblown? [Picture source: Wikipedia]

Pollinators in trouble; drunk and in love; 1mm thin TVs; why we sleep & dream


Half of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S.A. have disappeared in the last 10 years (Credit:

The honeybee is a vital pollinator of crops that enable humans to survive on this planet, yet, in the U.S.A. half of managed honeybee populations have disappeared in the last 10 years.

The U.S. administration was so alarmed about the threat to human existence this represents that President Obama, in 2014, launched a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and other Pollinators.

We discuss the theories put forward to explain why honeybees are in trouble, and the main planks of the U.S. strategy to maintain and build up honeybee numbers again.

Most of us love our TV, but large screen LED TVs can take up a lot of space, when fixtures, fittings, and the width of the set are all taken into account. Imagine a large screen TV, just 1 mm in width, that can be stuck to the wall for viewing, and peeled off and put away when not required.

South Korean electronics giant, LG, say such ultra-thin, wide screen TVs will be available for sale in Autumn this year. They are based on new technology which removes the need for bulky light boxes.

We’ve heard the expression being ‘drunk in love’. Well, scientists have found that the effect of alcohol is very similar on the mind and body, as the impact of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.

Scientists have long wondered why sleep, which made our ancestors, vulnerable to attack, evolved in human beings. They are finding that it has a lot to do with making sense of each day’s experience.

We also discuss how Japanese scientists are making remarkable progress with a ‘dream reading machine’ that can predict the content of people’s dreams – after the fact – with up to 80 per cent accuracy.

Listen below to discuss on all of the above with Declan Meehan on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan.

This was first broadcast on 21st May 2015

DNA clue to what species might struggle with ‘global warming’.

The West Antarctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth and Dr Louise Allcock NUIG, said it is also untouched and a perfect natural laboratory to study the impact of climate change on biological species (Credit: UNEP)

DNA, the famous ‘code for life’ can help catch a criminal, prove parentage, or link someone with a long-lost cousin. It can also provide clues as to what species of plants and animals might survive or disappear with global warming.

The Earth has been a lot cooler, and warmer at various times in its past, and such changes have often led to large-scale extinctions of many species. The question for scientists is: Why did some survive, while others perished?

Dr Louise Allcock, a zoologist based at NUI Galway, has been using DNA to determine what exactly happened to the number and distribution of particular animal species during past Ice Ages in Antarctica.

This evidence from the past can provide a clue as to what might happen to animals worldwide with global warming.

It could provide an early warming system for species that are likely to get in trouble with global warming, and, thereby, allow some time for experts to put a conservation strategy in place.

LISTEN: Interview with Dr Louise Allcock

Broadcast on 2nd August 2012 on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM.

The Secret to Insect Success: The Cuticle

The natural material that covers the entire outer body of this grasshopper and many other insects is cuticle. (Credit: Dr Jan-Henning Dirks)

Insects have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and are found in large numbers even in the harshest climates around the world.

So, what is the secret to their success? Well, one major factor is undoubtedly the cuticle, which covers the outer body of insects, such as the grasshopper pictured here on the right.

Despite the abundance of cuticle – it is the second most common natural material on the planet – no-one had studied its engineering properties in detail.

Until now that is.

Dr Jan-Henning Dirks and Professor David Taylor at the TCD Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering have shown that cuticle is flexible, lightweight, very strong, and crack resistant.

These are properties of interest to many industries, such as airplane manufacturers, for example.

LISTEN: Interview with Jan-Henning Dirks

This interview was broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 17-04-2012

TCD’s Ant Man: Dr Colby Tanner

Despite what this picture taken at Dublin Airport suggests, ants are rare in Ireland, and, experts believe, they are becoming rarer (Credit: Jen)

Ants are members of the group of social insects (insects that live together in large colonies) which includes bees and termites. They are fascinating creatures to study.

They organise their societies with precision, every individual has a clear role, they are brilliant builders, ferocious in defending their interests, and have incredible physical and sensory abilities.

Dr Colby Tanner, ant researcher based at the TCD Theoretical Ecology Group would certainly agree that ants are fascinating.

Colby has been working recently in the University of Lausanne with a group using infra-red as a way to track individual ants, in order to  find out exactly where they go and what they do, within the colony.

LISTEN: Interview with Colby Tanner

Broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 26-04-2012

The Misunderstood Crocodile

Source: Crocodile Information and Facts

Can you imagine having the crocodile pictured here as a house pet?

Or training a crocodile to sit, lie down, or politely wait to be fed?

It might sound crazy, but that’s exactly what John Dunbar, a mature student of Zoology at NUI Maynooth has done.

John, who is involved with the Reptile Village in Gowran Co Kilkenny, believes the feared crocodile has been totally misunderstood by humans.

Listen: Interview with John Dunbar, the Reptile Village co Kilkenny

Broadcast first on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 21/04/2011

Click to visit the Reptile Village.

When Ireland was ‘Wolf Land’

Wolves were in Ireland long before humans arrived, perhaps as long ago as 30,000 years back when they would have moved across Ice sheets from continental Europe into a land that was, at that stage, like today’s Siberian tundra.

(Picture Credit: Four Courts Press)

The archaeological evidence suggests that they lived here in plentiful numbers, that is until a systematic process of extermination resulted in the last wolf being killed, most likely in 1786.

In fact, Wolves were plentiful in Ireland long after they had been hunted to extinction in England and Wales, and to a lesser extent Scotland. This was why Ireland was referred by some outsiders as ‘Wolf Land’.

Wild wolves roamed the land, and the native humans, at least to English sensibilities, were not that much tamer.

‘Wolves in Ireland, A Natural and Cultural History’ by NUI Galway geographer Dr Kieran Hickey is an interesting, and well researched book, on many levels.

The author covers the archaeological evidence, the origin of Irish place names linked with wolves, the mythology, folklore and superstition around wolves, the relationship between man and wolf in pre and post Anglo-Norman times, the causes for the decline and extermination of the wolf, and a consideration of whether wolves should be re-introduced.

It is interesting to note, for example, that wolves  probably hunted with early humans in Ireland, before the emergence of wolf-dog hybrids. In these times, the wolf was considered a partner in survival and was not synonymous with evil.

There is plenty here to interest anyone interested in Irish history, zoology, brehon laws, or the Anglo-Norman conquest.

Listen: Interview with the author, Kieran Hickey

Price: €29.95 in hardback

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Animal Morality, Cork’s ‘Deep Space Telescope’

Animal Morality, Cork’s ‘Deep Space Telescope’

Science Spinning: ‘The Show with an Irish Spin on Science’, Presented and Produced by Seán Duke

Elephants are sensitive, moral, creatures that display acts of kindness towards other elephants, even those they are not related to (Credit: Vegan soapbox)

Broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM, 12/05/2011

To contact the show email:

Super-Powerful Telescopes, the ‘Misunderstood Crocodile’

The European Extremely Large Telescope, shown here as an artist’s impression, due to be built in 2018, could answer some of the Universe’s unanswered questions (Credit: European Space Observatory)

Science Spinning: ‘The Show with an Irish Spin on Science’, Presented and Produced by Seán Duke

Super-Powerful Telescopes, the ‘Misunderstood Crocodile’

This episode was broadcast on Dublin City FM, 21/04/2011

To contact the show email: