2000 square mile iceberg set to break off Antarctica warns NASA
A slab of ice nearly twice the size of Rhode Island state is cracking off of an Antarctic glacier, and one scientist says rapid growth in giant rift between it and the southern continent means its break-off is “inevitable” in a few months’ time.
The roughly ice block is part of the Larsen C Ice Shelf, which is the leading edge of one of the world’s largest glacier systems.
Scientists say that a 1,900 square-mile section of the “Larsen C” ice shelf is now only connected to the main body by a 12-mile section of ice. Researchers monitoring a huge crack in the ice discovered that it had grown rapidly during the second half of 2016 — increasing in size by 11 miles in December alone.
If the iceberg does break away, it would be one of the ten largest ever recorded.
When the iceberg breaks off, or calves, the shelf will lose around 10 percent of its surface area, leaving it at its most-retreated ever recorded position, according to researchers at Project MIDAS, a British-backed Antarctic research project.
Satellite images suggest the crack began opening up around 2011 and lengthened more than 18 miles (29 kilometers) by 2015. By March 2016 it had grown nearly 14 miles (23 kilometers) longer.
Back in November, a team of scientists in NASA’s Operation IceBridge survey flew over the rift to confirm it’s at least 80 miles (129 kilometers) long, 300 feet (92 meters) wide, and one-third of a mile (o.5 kilometers) deep.
Now another group of researchers – this time at Swansea University in the UK – say the entire Delaware-size block of ice is hanging on by just 12 miles (20 kilometers) of unfractured ice.
Computer modeling by some researchers suggests the calving of Larsen C’s big ice block might destabilize the entire ice shelf itself, which is about 19,300 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) – roughly two times larger than Massachusetts – via a kind of ripple effect.