Antarctica: NASA Images Show Iceberg the Size of Delaware Floating Away From Larsen C Ice Shelf

The edge of A-68, the iceberg the calved from the Larsen C ice shelf. NASA/Nathan Kurtz.

Space agency NASA has published a series of stunning images showing an Antarctic iceberg the size of Delaware, giving a close-up glimpse of a vast body of ice previously shown only in satellite images.

As part of Operation Icebridge, NASA's continuing mission to map polar ice, the agency took sophisticated airborne shots of the Larsen C ice shelf, and the enormous iceberg that broke free from it in July, known as A-68.

"I was aware that I would be seeing an iceberg the size of Delaware, but I wasn't prepared for how that would look from the air," wrote NASA Earth Observatory's Kathryn Hansen in a blog about the November 12 mission.

"Most icebergs I have seen appear relatively small and blocky, and the entire part of the berg that rises above the ocean surface is visible at once," she said.

The edge of Larsen C Ice Shelf with the western edge of iceberg A68 in the distance on October 30. NASA
The western edge of iceberg A68 with the new edge of Larsen C Ice Shelf in the distance. NASA

"Not this berg. A-68 is so expansive it appears [as] if it were still part of the ice shelf. But if you look far into the distance you can see a thin line of water between the iceberg and where the new front of the shelf begins.

"A small part of the flight today took us down the front of iceberg A-68, its towering edge reflecting in the dark Weddell Sea."

The images, posted on NASA's website and social media accounts, show the vast expanse of ice making up A-68, as well as the gap separating it from the ice shelf.

The separation of iceberg from shelf was a long time in the making. A crack in the shelf was rapidly expanding from 2011 before it finally broke in 2017. It followed the breakaway of another iceberg from Larsen B, to the North of Larsen C, in 2002.

In Hansen's blog, she adds that the team's observations reveal more than just a series of pretty pictures.

"This particular flight, however, aimed to get more than just a surficial look at Larsen C," she wrote, "to understand the system as a whole, scientists also want to know the bathymetry of the bedrock below." Using a "gravimeter," the team were able to collect data on how the system works beneath the ice.