You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Giant iceberg poised to break off from Antarctic shelf

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6/01/2017 Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

A giant iceberg, with an area equivalent to Trinidad and Tobago, is poised to break off from the Antarctic shelf.

A thread of just 20km of ice is now preventing the 5,000 sq km mass from floating away, following the sudden expansion last month of a rift that has been steadily growing for more than a decade.

The iceberg, which is positioned on the most northern major ice shelf in Antarctica, known as Larsen C, is predicted to be one of the largest 10 break-offs ever recorded.

Professor Adrian Luckman, a scientist at Swansea University and leader of the UK’s Midas project, said in a statement: “After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18km during the second half of December 2016. Only a final 20km of ice now connects an iceberg one quarter the size of Wales to its parent ice shelf.”

Am image of the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf, taken in November. © Nasa Am image of the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf, taken in November. The separation could trigger a wider break-up of the Larsen C ice shelf. Photograph: Midas Project, A Luckman, Swansea University

The separation of the iceberg “will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula” and could trigger a wider break-up of the Larsen C ice shelf, he added.

“If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed,” Luckman told BBC News.

Related: Antarctic ice sheet collapse will cause sea levels to rise. So what's new?

Ice shelves are vast expanses of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the edge of glaciers.

Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will destabilise the frozen continent’s inland glaciers. And while the splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels, the loss of glacial ice would.

Several ice shelves have cracked up around northern parts of Antarctica in recent years, including the Larsen B that disintegrated in 2002.

“We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event,” the Midas project website said.

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon