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An Up-Close Look At A Delaware-Sized Iceberg About To Break From Antarctica

23/02/2017 10:12 AM AEDT
British Antarctic Survey

New video provides an up-close look at a Delaware-sized iceberg on the verge of breaking off Antarctica.

Footage shared by British Antarctic Survey and Project MIDAS researchers on Tuesday gives an aerial glimpse of a 1,500-foot-wide crack along the Larsen C ice shelf. Scientists predict the rift will cause a 2,000-square-mile section of the continent to break off within months.

The rift lengthened by 10 miles in December, and by an additional six miles in the first three weeks of January. If it stretches 12 more miles, an iceberg will break off into the Weddell Sea, the BBC reported. 

Larsen C is the northernmost major ice sheet in Antarctica. If the piece along the rift detaches, it will be among the 10 largest icebergs ever recorded.

While “calving” of icebergs is a typical phenomenon, scientists monitoring the rift said a break would leave the 21,000-square mile Larsen C at its most retreated position.

“Iceberg calving is a normal part of the glacier life cycle, and there is every chance that Larsen C will remain stable and this ice will regrow,” Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey ice and ocean modeler, said with the release of the video. “However, it is also possible that this iceberg calving will leave Larsen C in an unstable configuration. If that happens, further iceberg calving could cause a retreat of Larsen C.

“We won’t be able to tell whether Larsen C is unstable until the iceberg has calved and we are able to understand the behavior of the remaining ice,” Holland added.

Scientists witnessed a similar occurrence with Larsen C’s one-time neighbor, Larsen B, whose 2002 collapse was followed by the thinning of its tributary glaciers ― smaller glaciers that flow into the main ice shelf. 

“The stability of ice shelves is important because they resist the flow of the grounded ice inland,” Holland said. “After the collapse of Larsen B, its tributary glaciers accelerated, contributing to sea-level rise.” 

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