(CN) – An iceberg nearly the size of Delaware has broken off from a key ice shelf in Antarctica – permanently changing the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula, scientists said Wednesday.
The 1.12-trillion-ton iceberg – twice the volume of Lake Erie – broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf sometime between Monday and Wednesday, scientists at the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom said.
Larsen C lost about 12 percent of its area once the iceberg broke off, an event known as “calving.” At 2,240 square miles, the iceberg is one of the largest ever recorded according to scientists with MIDAS, a U.K.-based Antarctic project that has been focused on the ice shelf for years.
“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, a Swansea professor and lead investigator at MIDAS. “We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C ice shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg.”
While the iceberg is not expected to raise sea levels, it does leave Larsen C far less stable. Ice shelves act like buttresses for the Antarctic ice sheet – keeping away warmer water and stifling the movement of glaciers into the sea – which make them critical factors in possible sea level rise.
“This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history” Swansea glaciologist Martin O’Leary, a member of the MIDAS project team, said. “We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”
Prior to monitoring the rift in Larsen C, MIDAS researchers studied the collapse of the Larsen A in 1995 and the breakup of Larsen B in 2002, the underlying cause of which was climate change.
However, after reviewing data and images of the new calving event, the team is “not aware of any link to human-induced climate change,” according to O’Leary.
As scientists attempt to forecast Larsen C’s future, the fate of the newly free iceberg is also unclear.
“We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C ice shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg,” Luckman said.