The 2,200 square-mile, trillion metric-ton section of the Larsen C ice shelf ‘calved’ away early this week.
A giant iceberg about the size of Delaware that had been under scientists’ watch has broken off from an ice shelf on the Antarctica Peninsula and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea.
The 2,200 square-mile, trillion metric-ton section of the Larsen C ice shelf “calved” off sometime between Monday and Wednesday, a team of researchers at Swansea University’s Project MIDAS has reported, citing imaging from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument.
Scientists have tracked the crack for more than a decade and they warned in June that the section was “hanging by a thread.” Its break, from Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf, changes the border shape of the peninsula forever even though the remaining ice shelf will continue to grow.
“The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” said professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project. “It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.”
Cracking in Antarctica does regularly occur and the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which were situated further north on the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively. But the size of this break, one of the biggest ever recorded, has earned global attention for its significance in climate change study and its potential impact on sea levels. The newly formed iceberg’s volume is twice that of Lake Erie. Since the iceberg was already floating before the break, it has no immediate impact on sea level, said Project MIDAS officials, who have also relied on European Space Agency satellites to monitor the progress of the rift.
The separated piece will be slow-moving, but will be monitored. Currents and winds might eventually push it north of the Antarctic where it could become a hazard to shipping. The peninsula itself is outside major trade routes.
Twitter’s reaction drifted between science, size comparisons (four times the size of London!) and politics.