One of the largest icebergs ever recorded, about 2,500 square miles, is poised to break off from one of the largest floating ice shelves in Antarctica, according to the European Space Agency.
The impending iceberg is predicted to detach itself from one of the continent’s major ice shelves called Larsen C and float off in the Weddell Sea, south of the tip of South America. Scientists have been monitoring the crack in the ice shelf for two years since they first observed that it was growing at a significant rate.
• The deep crack in the ice shelf has slowly extended over the course of 120 miles.
• Only about three miles of ice keep the iceberg attached to the shelf.
• While no one can predict its break-off time, when it does, it will be one of the largest icebergs on record.
• With roughly 620 feet thickness and 1 trillion tons of ice, the massive iceberg could pose a major hazard for ships.
• The break off is following similar collapses that occurred in nearby ice shelves in 1995 and 2002.
According to Adrian Luckman, a scientist monitoring Larsen C at Swansea University in Wales, those parts of the iceberg that have already detached have begun to move rapidly seaward, widening the rift in recent days and leaving the remaining ice strained near to breaking point.
• Scientists are divided about the impact of this particular break off on climate change.
• Though Icebergs calve off Antarctica all the time, this one might be different, given its large size.
• While some scientists fear that the break may be a sign that rising temperatures are causing the ice continent to fall apart, others believe that the cracking and melting are part of natural processes that have been going on for centuries.
• Antarctica has seen an increase in breaks in its ice shelves in recent years.
Though the expected calving event, on its own will not affect global sea level, as the ice that has detached was already afloat in the ocean, some scientists fear that it could hasten the destabilization of the larger Larsen C ice shelf.
• The Larsen A ice shelf, far closer to the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, had collapsed in 1995.
• Larsen B, located on the southern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, slightly closer to the South Pole collapsed in 2002.
• Now, Larsen C, which lies further towards the South Pole and subjects to somewhat cooler temperatures, has seen a major break.
• Recent studies have suggested that the ice of Larsen C has begun to flow more quickly to the sea through the shelf in recent years.
• The ice shelf has also been thinning and its surface has been getting lower in the water, suggesting that it might be melting from below.
Further, scientists will be watching the break closely and trying to pick up lessons about what to expect from other potentially vulnerable ice shelves in Antarctica.
“While it might not be caused by global warming, it’s at least a natural laboratory to study how breakups will occur at other ice shelves to improve the theoretical basis for our projections of future sea-level rise,” said NASA’s Tom Wagner, who directs the agency’s polar programs.
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