Giant Iceberg Splits From Antarctica

Posted: Jul 14 2017, 9:26am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Giant Iceberg Splits from Antarctica
Credit: MIDAS project
 

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The crack in Larsen C ice shelf has finally created an iceberg of about 5,800 square kilometres

A massive iceberg containing more than one trillion ton of ice has finally broken away from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. The calving event occurred sometime between Monday and Wednesday after a longstanding rift completely cut through the ice shelf.

The iceberg which is likely to be named A68 measures approximately 2,240 square miles, making it one of largest icebergs ever recorded. Its size is large enough to fill almost two Lake Erie, the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America.

“The iceberg weighs more than a trillion tones, but it was already floating before it calved away so has no immediate impact on sea level.” Researchers from MIDAS Antarctic research project said.

The rift on Antarctic’s fourth largest ice shelf Larsen C was first detected in 2011 but it was not until late 2016 that it expanded at an alarming rate. By the start of July, the crack was grown 200 kilometers long, leaving just five kilometers of ice between the fully intact ice shelf and the iceberg calving. The scenario suggested that a huge iceberg could break off anytime soon.

Using radar images from the Sentinel-1 satellite, researchers from Project MIDAS led by Swansea University in the UK have monitored the progression of the rift throughout the last year and updated public with changing situation. With the calving, the Larsen C ice shelf has now lost more than 12 percent of its total surface area. The loss of such a large piece of ice could significantly change the landscape of the continent.

"We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice. We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg.” Prof. Adrian Luckman, lead investigator with Swansea University, said in a statement.

Iceberg calving is a natural process and this is not the first time the Antarctic has seen icebergs produced in this way. Two large sections of Larsen C’s neighboring ice shelves A and B collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively. But since recently calved iceberg is the biggest to form in decades, its consequences could be more long term and devastating. There is every chance that remaining ice shelf could become unstable and completely disintegrate. Without ice shelves, glaciers melt faster and accelerate global sea level rise.

“The interesting thing is what happens next, how the remaining ice shelf responds,” said Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Will the ice shelf weaken? Or possibly collapse, like its neighbors Larsen A and B? Will the glaciers behind the ice shelf accelerate and have a direct contribution to sea level rise? Or is this just a normal calving event?”

Researchers will keep a close eye on the signs of further changes across the area.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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