When we think of icebergs, what inevitably springs to mind is the image of an imposing ice mountain with irregular slopes and pointy peaks.
But not all icebergs are fashioned in the same way. In fact, some icebergs can be flat-out, well, flat — looking suspiciously like a sheet cake — and NASA has a photo to prove it.
Last week, the space agency posted a snapshot of a bizarre-looking iceberg which is so perfectly rectangular that it challenges people’s notion of natural geometry, reports Quartz.
The media outlet describes the iceberg as “absurdly rectangular,” noting that the slab of ice might even be square — since the angle of the photo makes it difficult to grasp its exact shape.
Photographed as part of NASA’s IceBridge project — an airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice aimed at providing a 3D view of the planet’s ice shelves and ice sheets, per a previous Inquisitr report — the rectangular iceberg was spotted just off the Larsen C Ice Shelf, one of the largest in Antarctica.
Found floating in the Weddell Sea off of the Antarctic peninsula, this strange-looking stretch of ice is known as a tabular iceberg — and it’s actually more common than you might think.
“We get two types of icebergs: We get the type that everyone can envision in their head that sank the Titanic, and they look like prisms or triangles at the surface and you know they have a crazy subsurface. And then you have what are called ‘tabular icebergs,’” NASA scientist Kelly Brunt told Live Science.
From yesterday's #IceBridge flight: A tabular iceberg can be seen on the right, floating among sea ice just off of the Larsen C ice shelf. The iceberg's sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf. pic.twitter.com/XhgTrf642Z— NASA ICE (@NASA_ICE) October 17, 2018
Their striking appearance — with smooth surfaces that look like they’ve been masterfully cut by a skilled hand — is due to the way in which tabular icebergs are formed. According to Science Alert, this type of iceberg is created when massive blocks of ice splinter from ice shelves, detaching with a clean cut that leaves them sporting nearly vertical sides and a flat top with sharp edges.
As Brunt explained, the process that produces tabular icebergs is a bit like a fingernail growing too long and then cracking off at the end. This is why this type of iceberg is often rectangular and attractively geometric.
“What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square,” said Brunt, who is a researcher at the University of Maryland.
Judging by the clean edges of the iceberg, NASA believes that it broke off of the Larsen C Ice Shelf quite recently, since the wind and the water haven’t yet begun to gnaw at it.
“The iceberg’s sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf,” space agency officials wrote in a tweet on October 17.
While the size of the iceberg is yet to be determined, Brunt estimates that the slab of ice is likely more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) across.
Aside from the rectangular iceberg, the IceBridge survey also yielded another interesting find — a triangular iceberg found roughly in the same area.
From yesterday's #IceBridge flight:Triangular iceberg surrounded by many different types of sea ice, off the Larsen ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. In the open water, grease ice is forming. pic.twitter.com/L4WB36bV5H— NASA ICE (@NASA_ICE) October 19, 2018
It seems that icebergs really do come in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most famous tabular iceberg to ever be encountered is B-15 — the largest iceberg on record, which measured 4,200 square miles (11,000 square kilometers). As the Inquisitr previously reported, B-15 calved off of the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 — and has been crumbling into smaller pieces ever since.