A huge iceberg of about 1,270 km² (the city of Rio de Janeiro has 1,255 km²) broke off and detached itself from Antarctica, causing euphoria in the scientific community.
On Friday (26/2), instruments on the surface of the Brunt Ice Shelf confirmed the break.
This is neither the first nor the last time: icebergs regularly break away from ice shelves. The last major part to break in Brunts Antarctica was in the early 1970s.
Not only is the phenomenon rare, but it is also called “spectacular” by scientists because it occurs naturally and has nothing to do with climate change – this is a global problem indeed.
On the contrary, departments like these point to a reorganization of nature in search of equilibrium in icy areas and help science understand how large ice platforms work.
Not far away is the Halley station of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a British institution dedicated to research in the region.
BAS has a number of GPS devices on the Brunt platform that send information about the movement of ice to the agency’s headquarters in Cambridge, England.
The station has been in operation with reduced capacity since 2017 due to the impending risk of such a replacement.
There was no one on the ground and there is no life at risk in the area.
Experts now have to analyze satellite images in order to be able to observe the detachment more closely – for example to search for instabilities in the vicinity of Halley station.
“While breaking large pieces of ice is perfectly normal in Antarctica, disruptions like those seen on the Brunt platform on Friday are still quite rare and exciting,” said Professor Adrian Luckman of the University of Swansea in Wales.
The scientist has been tracking Brunt’s satellite images for the past few weeks and predicting the breakup.
“With three long rifts actively developing in the Brunt platform system over the past five years, we all predicted something spectacular was about to happen,” Luckman told the BBC.
“Time will tell if that detachment will cause more blocks to break in the coming days and weeks. At the University of Swansea we are studying how cracks develop in the ice shelf and why some lead to major disruptions while others don’t . “says the scientist.
“The reasons for this could explain the existence of large ice shelves,” he adds.
The new iceberg with 1,270 km² is large but smaller than the A68 iceberg, which broke off in the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017.
Even at a quarter the size of the A68, that part of the brunt needs to be tracked based on the risk it could pose to navigation in the future.
The United States National Ice Center will name the new iceberg after a while.
Since it’s in the same Antarctic quadrant (0-90 W) that the A68 came from, it also has the letter “A” in its name – it will likely be called A74.
The release of icebergs from an ice shelf is a very natural occurrence and is therefore not attributed to climate change.
The platform “tries” to keep its balance – and breaking icebergs is a way to offset the accumulated snow mass and the ingress of ice from glaciers on land.
Unlike in other icy areas, the scientists were unable to detect any climatic changes in the Brunt region that would significantly alter the natural process described above.
It is estimated that Brunt has reached its greatest extent in the last century, favoring large departments like this one.