A huge iceberg that weighs more than a trillion tons broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula, dramatically altering the landscape and providing a glimpse of how the Antarctic ice sheet might eventually start to fall apart.
A 5,800 square kilometers iceberg the size of Delaware or twice the size of Luxembourg has split off from the Larsen C segment of the Larsen ice shelf on Wednesday morning, after scientists examined the latest satellite data from the area, and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea.
There is no scientific consensus over whether global warming is to blame. But the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula has been fundamentally changed, according to Project Midas, a research team from Swansea University and Aberystwyth University in Britain that had been monitoring the rift since 2014.
“The remaining shelf will be at its smallest ever known size,” said Adrian Luckman, a lead researcher for Project Midas. “This is a big change. Maps will need to be redrawn,” the New York Times quoted Luckman.
The Larsen C ice shelf is more than 12% smaller in area than before the iceberg broke off. Larsen C, like two smaller ice shelves that collapsed before it, was holding back relatively little land ice, and it is not expected to contribute much to the rise of the sea. But in other parts of Antarctica, similar shelves are holding back enormous amounts of ice, and scientists fear that their future collapse could dump enough ice into the ocean to raise the sea level by many feet. How fast this could happen is unclear.
In the late 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula was one of the fastest-warming places in the world. That warming had slowed slightly in the 21st century, but scientists believe the ice is still catching up to the higher temperatures.