A massive iceberg broke off the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. It was announced on Wednesday morning by researchers at Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project that has been monitoring the effect of the warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf in West Antarctica.
Measuring 5,800 square km and weighing one trillion tons, the iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, is among the 10 biggest ever to be recorded. According to Reuters the iceberg poses an extreme risk for ships passing in close waters.
According to scientists at Swansea University and the British Arctic Survey, it calved away from the ice shelf between July 10-12. The process of calving occurs when chunks of ice break off at the end of a glacier.
The first warning had been given at the start of the year, in January and then a couple of months ago in May and June, as scientists monitoring the Larsen C Ice Shelf reported it to be doomed to split along the 120-mile crack first spotted at the end of 2010.
Larsen C is the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica and has an area of about 50,000 sq km; this means a 12 percent reduction in size as A68 breaks off leaving the Antarctic Peninsula forever changed.
“We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice,” said Adrian Luckman, lead investigator of Project MIDAS and professor at Swansea University.
Future developments are difficult to predict, as they depend both on how quickly the iceberg moves to warmer waters and on how rapidly it breaks into smaller pieces. As professor Luckman states, “it may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.”
According to researchers at MIDAS there is no direct evidence that links the calving of the iceberg to anthropogenic global warming and climate change.
Nonetheless, it is recognized that warming temperatures of the ocean and the atmosphere have been a determinant element in earlier fragmentations of Antarctic ice shelves. In particular, in the disintegration of Larsen C’s neighbours, Larsen A and Larsen B, in 1995 and 2002 respectively.
As often happens, nature is timely. News of A68 comes after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the American commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by more than 190 countries to tackle global warming and prevent runaway climate change.
In this regard, climate deniers would certainly remind us that calving is a natural part of the cycle of ice shelves. Ice flows gradually into them, they expand until the stress becomes too much and the iceberg breaks off.
Having said that, Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that reports on climate science, provides data of the climate in the region which indicates that because of global warming, temperatures have suffered a 5 degrees increase since the 1950s and could sustain up to 7 degrees more by the end of this century, only inflicting more pressure on the ice.
The good news is that the calving of the iceberg does not cause immediate impacts on sea levels as it was already floating before it broke off. “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 Anna Hogg, an expert from the University of Leeds where she works on the satellite observations of glaciers.
It is natural for the ice shelf to continue to regrow, however, even though it’s still premature to make any predictions on whether or not Larsen C will reform, scientists believe the new configuration of the ice shelf’s rift might turn out to be too unstable compared to its prior one. In this case, it’s safe to say, it would mean the overall fragility of the shelf may hinder it from growing back to its original size.