Delaware-Sized Iceberg Just Broke Off Antarctica. What Does It Mean?

An iceberg the size of Delaware just broke off of Antarctica, but scientists aren't sure if it's a natural occurrence or a product of climate change.

On Wednesday, an iceberg almost the size of Delaware broke off of Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf, which is a floating glacial extension, The Washington Post reported. To put it into perspective, the iceberg, slated to be named "A68," has as much water volume as two Lake Eries.

Scientists have been anticipating the iceberg's departure for over a decade, BBC reported. It is most likely in the top 10 biggest icebergs ever recorded by scientists and will prompt a redrawing of Antarctica's coastline.

As for it being an indication of climate change, which our president loves to deny exists, scientists just aren't sure.

Due to a lack of air temperature and environmental data on the Larsen C ice shelf, scientists aren't sure if the break is caused by climate change. It is not unusual for pieces to break off of the ice shelves of Antarctica.

A rift in the Larsen C ice shelf

"I think we're all scratching our heads as to just what combination of changes in the ice, air, and ocean caused this," said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "It's unclear if this is a new trend for this area of Antarctica."

Some scientists think warmer air and water temperatures are causing these shelves to melt at an expedited rate. Huge glaciers melting mean rapidly rising sea levels. 

But a loss in the southern part of Antarctica would be more alarming to rising sea levels than where the Larsen C ice shelf is.

This kind of break has the United Kingdom-based Antarctic research project group, Project MIDAS, concerned about its effect on the stability of the Larsen C ice shelf. "It may remain in one piece, but it is more likely to break into fragments," said Adrian Luckman, a lead researcher for MIDAS, according to The Washington Post. "Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters." 

According to BBC, the berg itself will move slowly, but wind and currents could eventually drift it into the Antarctic, which could be a problem for shipping. (Larsen C is in yellow below.)

Antarctica's ice shelves color-coded

This would take awhile to occur, if it does, Luckman said.

According to Professor Helen Fricker from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Larsen C ice shelf is different than Larsen A or B, which were affected by climate change. This calving (when a berg breaks off)? "It's business as usual," she told BBC.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography expect the iceberg, or its pieces, to move up towards South America, eventually making its way to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Then it'll get caught in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and go east-to-west.

Scientists hope to track the iceberg and other glacial movements to find out if it's inevitable episodic rifts, or a climate change concern. "But until we get down there and take some measurements, we can only speculate," Chris Borstad from the University Centre in Svalbard in Norway said to BBC. 

Banner/thumbnail credit: Unsplash, Cassie Matias 

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