Last week, a giant iceberg broke off the 150m-thick Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica, close to a British scientific outpost. The 1 270 sq km chunk of ice is bigger than New York City and broke off in a process called calving, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
What is Happening?
- Thankfully, the BAS’s Halley Research Station, located on the Brunt Ice Shelf, is closed for the Antarctic winter and its 12-person staff left earlier this month. The station is also unlikely to be affected by the calving.
- Scientists have been expecting a large iceberg to break away for years because of immense cracks that formed in the ice shelf in Antarctica. A new chasm, known as the North Rift, started moving toward another large crack in November and grew a kilometre a day in January. This crack widened to several hundred metres on the morning of February 26, freeing it from the rest of the ice shelf. North Rift is the third major crack through the ice shelf to become active in the last decade.
- The BAS moved the Halley Research Station 32km inland in 2016 as a precaution to avoid the paths of two other cracks and staff have only worked there during the Antarctic summer since 2017 because evacuations would be difficult during the dark winter.
BAS Director of Operations Simon Garrod says, “This is a dynamic situation. Four years ago, we moved Halley Research Station inland to ensure that it would not be carried away when an iceberg eventually formed. That was a wise decision. Our job now is to keep a close eye on the situation and assess any potential impact of the present calving on the remaining ice shelf.”
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- An even bigger iceberg broke away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2017 and floated into the open ocean late last year.
- Scientists are now watching the iceberg to see what it will do next. The BAS says, “Over coming weeks or months, the iceberg may move away; or it could run aground and remain close to Brunt Ice Shelf.”
Featured image by: British Antarctic Survey