World

Huge Antarctic Iceberg Poised to Break Off Into Sea

Iceberg
An iceberg breaking off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory, January 11, 2008. A huge piece of ice shelf, Larsen C, in the Antarctic could split off soon, scientists have warned. Torsten Blackwood/Getty

Scientists say an iceberg—predicted to be one of the 10 largest on record—is poised to break away from the Antarctic shelf, potentially sparking a rise in sea levels.

Researchers from Project Midas, a U.K.-based Antarctic research project, have tracked the most northern major ice shelf, known as Larsen C, for years and said on Thursday that a large area would like break away. The rift in Larsen C grew suddenly in December 2016, according to a blog on the group’s website.

Larsen C is roughly 350m thick and a section measuring 1,930 sq miles (5,000sq km)—roughly a quarter of the size of Wales—is connected by only 20km of ice, and once that breaks, the piece will drift out into the ocean. The shelf currently holds back a flow of glaciers that feed into it and the breakaway will “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula,” said the researchers.

According to the BBC, while the iceberg itself will not raise sea levels, scientists say there are concerns that if the rift breaks off, glaciers will speed up their journey into the Antarctic causing global sea levels to rise. Researchers estimate that if all the ice held back by Larsen C reaches the sea, sea levels will rise by 10cm.

Professor David Vaughan, glaciologist and the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey, told the BBC Radio 4 Today program that the breakup of Larsen C shouldn’t affect the habitat of penguins, saying that “sometimes they actually hitch a ride as icebergs glide through the water.”

“We are convinced, although others are not, that the remaining ice shelf will be less stable than the present one,” Professor Adrian Luckman, from Swansea University, told the BBC. “We would expect in the ensuing months to years further calving events, and maybe an eventual collapse—but it's a very hard thing to predict, and our models say it will be less stable; not that it will immediately collapse or anything like that.”