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Uh-Oh! There's a Gigantic Iceberg About to Break Off From the Antarctic

Jan 09, 2017 10:00 AM EST
WATCH RELATED VIDEO
NASA's Operation IceBridge Maps Changes To Antartica's Ice Mass
Break-offs happen regularly, but this one is set to be massive.
(Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Scientists keeping an eye on Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf reported an alarming observation: a sizeable portion seems poised to break away in the coming months.

According to a report from Phys Org, the enormous block of ice that's set to break away is a hundred times the size of Manhattan. Adrian Luckman, Swansea University professor and leader of Britain's Project Midas, revealed to BBC that he expects the chunk to split from Larsen C soon.

"If it doesn't go in the next few months, I'll be amazed," he said. "There hasn't been enough cloud-free Landsat images but we've managed to combine a pair of Esa Sentinel-1 radar images to notice this extension, and it's so close to calving that I think it's inevitable."

This estimate comes after a rift in the ice sheet suddenly extended by approximately 18 kilometers (11 miles) by the end of December. Only a small fraction of the block remains connected to the main shelf. The gap also increased from being under 50 meters (160 feet) in 2011 to almost 500 meters at present. Should it separate, Luckman described the break-off as one of the ten biggest break-offs in recorded history.

While the iceberg itself would not cause a significant rise in sea level, the inland glaciers that are held in place by the Larsen C ice shelf contains frozen water that could hike up ocean levels by about 10 centimeters (four inches). This is a large increase that is causing considerable concern worldwide.

University of Colorado scientist Ted Scambos told Phys Org in a separate report that although the Delaware-sized iceberg is set to break away soon, he does not see the other signs that point to a collapse of the entire ice shelf.

"By itself this calving is not cause for alarm," NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally agreed. He added that icebergs breaking off is a natural occurrence in the Antarctica. "But the ice shelf has been thinning as other ice shelves have been thinning in the Antarctic peninsula."

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