Massive ice sheet breaks away from Antarctica

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

A massive iceberg weighing more than 1 trillion tons has broken away from western Antarctica.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A massive iceberg weighing more than 1 trillion tons has broken away from western Antarctica, according to a U.K.-based research team.

Scientists from Project MIDAS had been monitoring a break in the Larsen C ice shelf — the fourth largest in Antarctica — after the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and had observed significant advances in the rift over the past year.

Experts said the separation of a 5,800-square-kilometers section of Larsen C was confirmed to have broken away between Monday and Wednesday by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite, which is capable of producing images in thermal infrared at a resolution of 1 kilometer.

“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 professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project.

He said the team believes the iceberg has remained intact, adding, “This is part of the normal behavior of ice shelves. What makes this unusual is the size.”

Scientists believe the iceberg — likely to be named A68 — has a volume twice that of Lake Erie.

With the iceberg floating independently, the area of Larsen C has been reduced by more than 12 percent, forever changing the landscape of the peninsula, according to experts.

Luckman said that as the sheet of ice was already floating before it carved off the shelf “there will be no immediate impact”.

“We will study the ice shelf for signs that it is reacting to the calving — but we do not expect anything much to happen for perhaps years. Icebergs are routinely monitored by various agencies, and they will be keen to keep track of this one,” Luckman said.

Calving is a natural occurrence, but scientists have been exploring if climate change might have played a role in expediting the rift.

The team of researchers have not yet found “any link to human-induced climate change”, said Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team.

“We have no evidence to link this directly to climate change, and no reason to believe that it would not have happened without the extra warming that human activity has caused,” Luckman said. “But the ice shelf is now at its most retreated position ever recorded and regional warming may have played a part in that.”