Giant Iceberg Breaks Free in Antarctica

Sometime between July 10th and July 12th, a giant iceberg broke free from Antarctica, wreaking havoc on shipping lanes in the area while it breaks up into smaller pieces. It broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf, automatically reducing that shelf’s area by 12% when it did so. Larsen C is now at its smallest ever recorded size.

Weighing in at around one trillion tons and measuring over 2200 square miles, this is one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. To provide some perspective as to how big it really is, it is twice the size of the country of Luxembourg, and about the same size as the state of Delaware or the Indonesian island of Bali. It is not as large as the biggest recorded iceberg, B-15, which broke off from the Ross ice shelf in the year 2000, but it is certainly in the top 10, and possibly even in the top 5.

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Despite its size, the iceberg, which is expected to be named A68, probably won’t have an effect on global sea levels by itself. This is because it was already floating in the water at the time it broke away. But it could lead to more problems in the future. The Larsen C ice shelf is holding back a lot of ice that isn’t in the water already. If more icebergs like A68 break away in the future, this could lead that ice being released. This would certainly cause sea levels to change dramatically.

Fortunately, the Earth is not in imminent danger from the Larsen C ice shelf. It could take many years for more icebergs to break away from it. Although this does not mean there is no cause for concern at all. Scientists aren’t yet sure whether global warming caused A68 to break away, but others have broken free for just this reason. Though “calving” icebergs are a normal occurrence, climate change could be speeding this process up. Researchers intend to study this iceberg to determine if climate change was the underlying cause for its break.

The major concern now is for shipping in the area. Though the iceberg is currently not in the path of any major trade routes, it is located in the area where most cruise ships from South America visit. While a tragedy like the Titanic is not likely, due to improvements in advance-warning technology, at least one cruise ship in that area has had to be evacuated in the past due to striking an iceberg.

As to what will become of A68, there are a few options. It could stay in the ocean for years if it does not move much. If it enters warmer waters, however, it will certainly melt.

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