Giant iceberg bigger than New York broke off in Antarctica

Erika Armanino reports on the recent calving of an iceberg in Antarctica, bigger than the Big Apple

Erika Armanino
25th March 2021
Image Credit: Phoebe Young
A huge iceberg, more than 20 times the size of Manhattan, just broke off from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

The huge iceberg about the size of Los Angeles broke off from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica on the 26th of February after a major crack formed on the shelf in November 2020. The iceberg had an estimated size of 490 square miles (1,270 square km) with a thickness of 150 metres.

Image Credit: Phoebe Young

There’s no evidence that climate change was involved

The so-called “North Rift” crack is the third major chasm to tear across the Brunt Ice Shelf in the last decade. The chunk of ice broke free in a natural process called calving and there’s no evidence that climate change was involved.

The ice shelf flows towards the sea at a rate of about two kilometres per year while scientists are now watching it to see what it will do next.

The breakup occurred near the British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) Halley Research Station, the base that led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985. Jane Francis, the director of BAS, said in a statement, “Our teams at BAS have been prepared for the calving of an iceberg from Brunt Ice Shelf for years.”

Image Credit: Birger Strahl on Unsplash

BAS moved their station farther inland in 2016 as a precaution. The research station is now closed for the Antarctic winter and the 12-person team left earlier in February. Because of the unpredictability of the previous cracks and the difficulty of evacuating during the cold winters, the research team has been working at the station only during the Antarctic summers over the past four years.

Over the coming weeks or months, the iceberg may move away; or it could run aground

More than a dozen GPS monitors measure information about ice deformation of the shelf and relay the data to the team in the UK. The scientists also use satellite images from the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, and the German satellite TerraSAR-X to monitor the ice movements.

“Over the coming weeks or months, the iceberg may move away; or it could run aground and remain close to Brunt Ice Shelf,” Francis said in the statement.

Simon Garrod, the BAS director of operations, added, “Our job is to keep a close eye on the situation and assess any potential impact of the present calving on the remaining ice shelf.”

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