World’s Largest Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctica

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A calving glacier can be a moment of great drama with cracks, booms, and gigantic waves as giant chunks of ice crash into the sea. But in the last few days, something much bigger went down in Antarctica, where a 105-mile-long iceberg broke off from the continent. A-76, as its known, is the largest iceberg in the world.

 

A-76 was discovered by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) using Sentinel-1 satellites that operate in near-polar orbit. Among other research, the satellites monitor sea ice for the European Space Agency (ESA). Before setting off on its own, the iceberg was part of the Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

At 1,668 square miles, A-76 is slightly smaller than the state of Delaware (1,982 square miles). In comparison, the ESA said it was slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca. The event was confirmed by the U.S. National Ice Center, a multi-agency organization that includes the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A-76 gets its name from the Antarctic quadrant it comes from along with a sequential number. If the iceberg breaks up, its parts will each get sequential letters.

NASA scientists report that climate change is making a significant impact on Antarctica with the continent losing 145 gigatonnes of ice each year. To put gigatonnes in perspective, NASA says if you took one gigatonne of ice and put it in New York’s Central Park, it would be more than 1,100 feet tall.

While there are parts of Antarctica where warming waters are rapidly altering the glacial landscape, where A-76 came from isn’t one of them. According to BAS researchers, climate change has not significantly warmed the Weddell Sea and so the launch of a state-size iceberg is considered relatively normal here. “This calving is part of the natural cycle of the Ronne Ice Shelf,” says Dr. Alex Brisbourne, a glaciologist at BAS.

If A-76 remains in the cold waters of the Weddell Sea, it could be years before it melts. However, if it moves north to the South Atlantic, as expected, it won’t be the largest iceberg in the world for long.

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