A Huge Iceberg is about to Break off from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf

The European Space Agency’s CryoSat is currently tracking the changes in the thickness and the height of the iceberg.

A Delaware-sized iceberg is about to break off from one of Antarctica’s major ice shelves known as Larsen C. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been keeping a watch on this iceberg through its orbital eyes, including Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite and CryoSat. While Sentinel-1 is monitoring the crack in the ice, the CryoSat is tracking the changes in the thickness and height of the iceberg. Scientists have also warned that this iceberg could accelerate the break-off of other ice chunks in the continent.

The deep crack between the Antarctic mainland and the Larsen C, which was growing with a speed of about 33 feet a day, has now extended over 125 miles. Only three miles of ice is now keeping the massive iceberg attached to the Larsen C ice shelf.  Scientists have calculated that the iceberg, after being detached from the mainland, would be approximately 623 feet thick and 6,000 sq km (2,317 sq miles) in area. It would contain roughly 1 trillion tons of ice, and its depth below sea level would be about 690 feet.

An iceberg breaking off from Antarctic mainland is something that has regularly happened in the past. Some scientists suggest there is no need to press a panic button for Larsen C event as melting of ice in Antarctica is a natural process, and it has been going on for the past several centuries. In 1995, collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf near the northern tip of the Antarctic was reported. Seven years later, another ice shelf called Larsen B situated closer to the South Pole collapsed.

The ESA says some pieces of the iceberg have already detached from the ice shelf, and these pieces are now moving towards the sea. This has resulted in widening of the rift and straining of the ice which is now approaching its breaking point. Scientists are also concerned about the possibility of iceberg drifting into shipping lanes. In December 2015, a similar iceberg from the Brunt ice shelf had scared scientists stationed at the Halley research base. Brunt berg was about 390 m in thickness and was too thick to come near the ‘shore’. Despite these concerns, the calving event is unlikely to have any impact on global sea level because the detached ice was already floating in the ocean.