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EducationIce Calving: Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctica

Ice Calving: Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctica

Published: 3rd Mar 2021 2:02 pm

New radar images captured from space reveal a giant iceberg breaking off in Antarctica. The iceberg, called A-74, covers about 490 square miles (1,270 square kilometers), making it 1.5 times bigger than Greater Paris. It broke off from the northern region of Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf on Feb. 26, just a few months after a large crack formed in November 2020.

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The new images of the iceberg’s big break were captured by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, an Earth-observing project made up of two orbiting satellites: Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B.

“Although the calving of the new berg was expected and forecasted some weeks ago, watching such remote events unfold is still captivating,” ESA scientist Mark Drinkwater said in an ESA statement about the event.

Cracks formed four years ago

For years, glaciologists have monitored the cracks that have formed in the Brunt Ice Shelf, a large floating slab of ice 492 feet (150 meters) thick located on Antarctica’s northern rim and the site of the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Halley Research Station.

These scientists have been expecting a large “calving event” for at least a decade, according to the BAS. Ice calving, or iceberg or glacier calving, occurs when large pieces of ice break off of a glacier. The team working at the BAS Halley Research Station say that the station is unlikely to be affected by the recent calving event.

The Brunt Ice Shelf, which typically flows west at about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) per year, routinely experiences calving events. According to the BAS in the same statement, there is “no evidence that climate change has played a significant role” in this specific event.

Tracking icebergs

More than a dozen GPS monitors measure and relay information about ice deformation of the shelf back to the team in the UK every day. The researchers also use satellite images from the European Space Agency, NASA and the German satellite TerraSAR-X to monitor the ice.

In November 2020, a new chasm (or deep fissure) named the North Rift started quickly cutting across the ice shelf, moving about 16 feet (5 meters) per day, according to the same ESA statement. Finally, on Feb. 26, the crack spread apart, widening before the iceberg was completely free from the ice shelf.

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