An iceberg the size of the U.S. state of Delaware has just broken away from from an ice shelf in Antarctica. The ice shelf, called Larsen C, is one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves. The breakage, scientists believe, may be an effect of global warming and more disruption of the Antarctic ice shelves may be coming.
Over the past several years scientists had been watching a crack, on the ice shelf, that was more than 120 miles long develop. Recently, the crack grew at an alarming rate (11 miles within one week) and a 2,200-square-mile ice chunk finally broke away from Larsen C. The iceberg is one of the largest ever on record. Larsen C has now been reduced by 10% of its mass.
Project Midas is the research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Lead researcher, Adrian Luckman, told The New York Times, “The remaining shelf will be at its smallest ever known size. This is a big change. Maps will need to be redrawn.”
Scientists are not worried about the immediate impact this breakage may cause. However, they fear it is a warning for long term effects in Antarctica. Larsen C was holding very little land ice. On the other hand, there are other similar shelves that do contain large amounts of ice. If this trend continues, collapse of future ice chunks can lead to a rise in sea level by many feet.
Thomas P. Wagner, who leads NASA’s efforts to study the polar regions, told The New York Times, “While it might not be caused by global warming, it’s at least a natural laboratory to study how breakups will occur at other ice shelves to improve the theoretical basis for our projections of future sea level rise.”
Scientists also fear the breakage could lead to the total collapse of Larsen C. Both Larsen A and Larsen B had previously collapsed due to global warming. The DW reports “The West Antarctic ice sheet holds enough frozen water to raise sea levels by about 6 meters (20 feet) if it were to melt.”