Open ocean visible between iceberg and ice shelf

What happened next to the giant Larsen C iceberg?

What happened next to the giant Larsen C iceberg?

The fate of the giant iceberg that broke free from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf last month has been revealed.

The 2,240-square-mile ice shelf completely separated from Antarctica between July 10 and 12, causing widespread alarm around the world.

In terms of size, it's fairly big. Scientist thinks the iceberg has a volume that is twice the size of Lake Erie in North America and is more than triples the size of the greater London area. If the ice sped up after the iceberg broke away, that could mean the massive iceberg had been important for anchoring the ice shelf. They have come both from the main ice sheet and from the iceberg itself, according to a study in the journal Nature Climate Change. "So we'll be constantly looking at ice speeds over the next months to years to really appreciate the picture that's constantly evolving on Larsen-C". Icebergs don't contribute to sea level rise because they're already floating on the ocean's surface. Only time will tell what the full impact of the birth of the new iceberg will be.

"The really interesting thing is that it didn't just break through in one clean shot, it formed a lace-network of cracks first and then we were all waiting on tenterhooks to see which one would be the final pathway", said Dr Anna Hogg, an expert in satellite observations of glaciers at the University of Leeds and member of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling. Larsen C is now at its smallest size since satellite-record keeping began, and other ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have been retreating for decades-in part, scientists believe, due to climate change.

Sentinel-1 data shows network of cracks grow on the Larsen C ice shelf before A68 breaks free. The recent iceberg is half the size of the largest iceberg ever recorded, having an area of 11,007 square kilometers - matching up to about the size of the island of Jamaica or the state of CT.

And the remaining cracks in the ice shelf have not remained static either. "They have continued to grow and extend a bit still", she said. Scientists continue to monitor the iceberg and ice shelf. "That would suggest that [the iceberg] is floating in the ocean - it is not now grounded", said Hogg, adding that there are a number of options for the future of A68: it may break up into smaller pieces, get pushed around by the winds, or be steered by the ocean currents. The sheer size of this break risks destabilizing the rest of the Larsen C ice shelf, and if the ice shelf goes there will be nothing stopping the rest of the Larsen ice sheet from reaching the ocean. While Larsen C's recent breakup is consistent with the natural calving cycles of ice shelves, it has also become something of a scientific experiment.

"If the ice that is resting on those pinning points does break off, that is definitely a concern", said Hogg.

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