Arctic, Antarctic sea ice shrinks

Posted at 6:44 AM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-12 06:44:11-04

(RNN) - One of the biggest icebergs ever recorded has broken off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, scientists reported Wednesday.

Scientists said that NASA detected the final rift via satellite imagery.

The iceberg, which will likely be named A68, is one trillion metric tons and 5,800 square km, and the volume of the iceberg is twice that of Lake Erie, reported Project MIDAS, a UK-based research project studying the effects of melting on the Larsen C ice shelf.

Because the ice shelf was already floating on the ocean, the split will have no immediate effect on sea level, the experts noted.

Scientists have been tracking the progress of the rift throughout the year.

Experts fear that losing such a large section of ice, more than 12 percent of the ice shelf's area, will make the Larsen C iceberg so unstable that it will disintegrate.

Such a fate befell the Larsen B iceberg, which experienced a similar calving event in 1995 before distintegrating in 2002.

"Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position," said Martin O'Leary, Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team. "This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”

Adrian Luckman, lead investigator of the MIDAS project, said the iceberg may remain in one piece for a while but most likely will break up in fragments, with some of the pieces possibly drifting into warmer waters.

The Larsen C Ice Shelf floats on the ocean at the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, holding back the flow of glaciers that feed into it.

While the iceberg will not have an immediate effect on sea levels, if the ice shelf loses much more of its area, glaciers on land could flow off the land and into the ocean, which could cause eventual sea level rise "at a very modest rate."

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