Large Iceberg Breaks Away From Antarctica in 'Calving' Event, Not Due to Climate Change

A large iceberg has broken away from Antarctica's Amery Ice Shelf, it was reported Monday. The iceberg, known as iceberg D28, covers an area of 632 square miles.

The event was detected by the European Union's Copernicus earth observation program.

Scientists say that climate change was not a factor in the iceberg leaving Antarctica. The continent is affected by climate change on a continual basis, with surface ice melting at an increased pace, and ice disintegrating into the ocean both thought to be caused by anthropogenic warming. However, the Amery Ice Shelf in particular is an area not yet thought to have been significantly impacted by the phenomenon.

Though this file photo from 2017 was from NASA's Operation Icebridge, looking at how polar ice has evolved over the last decade, the recent iceberg breaking is a natural event, unrelated to climate change. Mario Tama/Getty

The loss of D28 instead occurred due to a natural ice shelf process, called a "calving event." Antarctic ice shelves are essentially oceanic extensions of ice moving away from the continent's surface, due to the process of glaciers moving off the land of Antarctica and into the ocean. In order for the process to continue, occasionally icebergs must give way to the pressure of incoming ice and "calve" away from the ice shelf, floating into the ocean.

D28 had been adjacent to a part of the ice shelf scientists had been predicting would break away from the continent for nearly two decades, known as "Loose Tooth." The area held the nickname due to satellite images thought to resemble a crooked tooth hanging from the "mouth" of the surrounding ice.

Its significantly smaller companion D28 is part that broke away, but Loose Tooth is still attached to the shelf, despite scientists having predicted in 2002 it would break off between 2010 and 2015.

"It is the molar compared to a baby tooth," Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Helen Frick told BBC News. "I am excited to see this calving event after all these years. We knew it would happen eventually, but just to keep us all on our toes, it is not exactly where we expected it to be."

antarctica map
The Amery Ice Shelf is located in the east of Antarctica. Getty

It's predicted to take up to several years for D28 to fully break up and melt away. The iceberg's progress will continue to be monitored to minimize the potential threat it could pose to shipping lanes.

While the D28 iceberg is itself large, weighing around 347 tons with an area approximately 27 times the size of Manhattan, it dwarfs in comparison to the current record holder for largest iceberg. That distinction belongs to iceberg B15, a 4,200-square mile behemoth which broke away from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, also in a calving event.

This is the second biggest calving event for the Amery Ice Shelf itself. The largest iceberg to break away from the ice shelf was more than five times the size of D28, and left the continent in the 1960s. The Amery Ice Shelf is Antarctica's third largest ice shelf.