Scientists are warning that a particularly large Antarctic iceberg is poised to break away from Antarctica. The piece, which is estimated to be as large as Delaware or about a quarter the size of Wales, is said to be one of the ten largest ever documented in history.
According to a report from BBC, the iceberg’s chances of breaking away increased in December when a “long-running” rift in the Larsen C ice shelf had unexpectedly grown. Due to this unforeseen event, there are only 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) of ice preventing the iceberg from splitting off.
In quotes published by the Daily Telegraph, Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, who leads a team researching on the issue, said that there’s a good chance the 1,930-square-mile (5,000-square-kilometer) piece will be breaking off in a few months’ time.
“I would think the end of this particular rift and this iceberg carving is imminent, within the next few months I would have thought.”
While climate change is thought to be a factor in the accelerating loss of ice, Luckman stressed that there are other variables in play that bring the huge Antarctic iceberg closer to breaking off from the continent.
“Climate warming must be playing a part in the overall picture of ice shelf loss, it’s just that this particularly large iceberg coming from Larsen C, we cannot attribute directly to climate change.”
The BBC noted that the Larsen C ice shelf measures about 1,150 feet (350 meters) thick, and is the northernmost major ice shelf in Antarctica. It floats at the western edge of Antarctica, where it “holds back the flow of glaciers that feed into it.” Larsen C has also piqued scientists for quite some time, as researchers have spent the past two-plus decades monitoring it, in the aftermath of the collapses of the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves, which took place in 1995 and 2002 respectively.
Concern over the rift in Larsen C’s growth had been brewing since 2016, but it was in December when the rift’s growth had “(gone) into overdrive,” as it expanded by over 11 miles (18 kilometers) in just a few weeks’ time. That’s left the Antarctic iceberg in question hanging by a figurative thread, one that measures just 12.4 miles long as of the moment.
Speaking to BBC, Luckman said that he and his colleagues are worried about what may happen to Larsen C, should the large iceberg break off. This is in light of the calving event that led to the fantastic and unexpected collapse of Larsen B in 2002.
“We are convinced, although others are not, that the remaining ice shelf will be less stable than the present one. We would expect in the ensuing months to years further calving events, and maybe an eventual collapse – but it’s a very hard thing to predict, and our models say it will be less stable; not that it will immediately collapse or anything like that.”
Another concern is the possibility that any future events in relation to the iceberg and Larsen C may raise sea levels. If Larsen C keeps breaking up, this could allow more ice to float into the sea, and if all the ice the shelf currently holds back does make it to the sea, global sea levels may increase by about 10 centimeters. But as Luckman told BBC, this is something that may happen later rather than sooner, despite all the concern regarding the Antarctic iceberg and its potential split from Antarctica.
“The eventual consequences might be the ice shelf collapsing in years to decades,” Luckman said. “Even the sea level contribution of this area is not on anybody’s radar; it’s just a big geographical event that will change the landscape there.”
[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]