A massive, trillion-tonne iceberg has broken off an ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, according to scientists. The giant iceberg is now adrift in the Weddell Sea, they said.
Last month, the iceberg was reported to be a ‘hanging by a thread’. On Wednesday morning, it was found to be split off from the Larsen C section of the Larsen ice shelf. The scientists discovered this after analysing latest satellite data from the area.
The Larsen C ice shelf has now become 10 per cent smaller than before the iceberg broke off. According to scientists, this event has changed the shape of Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen C ice shelf now stands at its lowest extent ever recorded.
The new iceberg, at 5,800 sq km, is now expected to be called as A68. The iceberg is half as big as the B-15, which holds the record after it split off from the Ross ice shelf in 2000. However, the new iceberg is believed to be one of the 10 largest icebergs ever recorded.
“It is a really major event in terms of the size of the ice tablet that we’ve got now drifting away,” said Anna Hogg, an expert in satellite observations of glaciers from the University of Leeds.
The huge crack grew during several years. However, between May 25 and May 31, it grew by 17 km, which was the largest increase since January. The movement of ice took pace between June 24 and June 27 and reached a rate of more than 10 meters per day for the already-severed section.
In the end, it was found that it was not a simple break. The break had branched multiple times, data collected just days before the iceberg calved revealed.
“We see one large [iceberg] for now. It is likely that this will break into smaller pieces as time goes by,” said Adrian Luckman, professor of glaciology at Swansea University and leader of the UK’s Midas project which is focused on the state of the ice shelf.
The ice shelves are actually floating masses of ice that are hundreds of metres thick and are attached to huge, grounded ice sheets. These shelves act like buttresses and hold back and slow down the movement into the sea of the glaciers that feed them.
“There is enough ice in Antarctica that if it all melted, or even just flowed into the ocean, sea levels [would] rise by 60 metres,” said Martin Siegert, professor of geosciences at Imperial College London and co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change & Environment.
According to experts, the birth of this iceberg will not lead to rise in sea level. “It’s like your ice cube in your gin and tonic – it is already floating and if it melts it doesn’t change the volume of water in the glass by very much at all,” said Hogg.
The Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002.