An Iceberg the Size of Delaware is About to Break Off From Antarctica

January 9, 2017 | Kelly Tatera

ice shelf
The crack through Larsen C ice shelf is visible as a dark line from bottom right to top left of this satellite image. Image captured on 26 October 2016.

Expected to split off in the next few months, the iceberg will be one of the 10 largest ever recorded.

It’s official – an iceberg the size of Delaware is about to break off from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.

Scientists have suspected that the calving event would happen, and in December, the rift forming across the ice shelf sped up at an unexpected rate. Now, the researchers have confirmed that there’s just 12.5 miles (20 km) of ice keeping the 1,930 square mile (5,000 square kilometer) iceberg attached to the ice shelf.

RELATED: A Lengthening Crack Threatens Antarctica’s Fourth Largest Ice Shelf

The researchers don’t have enough information yet to know whether the calving event is a direct effect of climate change or not, but they can confirm that climate change has contributed to the thinning of the ice shelf.

Larsen C is the fourth largest ice shelf in Antarctica, and now the researchers are concerned about whether the entire ice sheet may collapse. It plays a critical role in holding back the flow of glaciers into the ocean, so an entire breakdown of the ice shelf could be bad news.

In fact, the situation on Larsen C looks so dire that the glaciology research team decided to refrain from setting up camp on the ice shelf for their usual surveys of the seafloor beneath the ice.  

"The calving of this large iceberg could be the first step of the collapse of Larsen C ice shelf, which would result in the disintegration of a huge area of ice into a number of icebergs and smaller fragments,” Glaciologist Professor David Vaughan said in a press release.

"Because of the uncertainty surrounding the stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, we chose not to camp on the ice this season.”

LEARN MORE: The West Antarctic Ice Shelf is Breaking Apart From the Inside Out

As BBC News reports, the researchers predict sea levels around the planet would rise by about 4 inches (10 cm) if all of the ice currently held back by Larsen C broke up and entered the oceans.

Based on the radar images the team currently has, project leader Adrian Luckman, from Swansea University, tells BBC that the iceberg is “so close to calving that I think it's inevitable."

"If it doesn't go in the next few months, I'll be amazed," he concludes.

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