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NASA images show huge cracks poised to release iceberg larger than New York

Mirror logo Mirror 2/24/2019 Laura Forsyth
The Brunt Ice Shelf is a 400 foot-thick sheet of ice in the Weddell Sea © Getty Images/Universal Images Gr The Brunt Ice Shelf is a 400 foot-thick sheet of ice in the Weddell Sea

An iceberg twice the size of New York City is about to break off from Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf, according to NASA.

The space agency released aerial images which show massive cracks along the frozen landscape that have been growing since October 2016.

Once the cracks meet, the outer ice is expected to completely snap off and float away, reports Newsweek.

The Brunt Ice Shelf is a 400 foot-thick sheet of ice in the Weddell Sea which was home to the British Halley Research Station

However since the broken ice, known as the Halloween crack, first appeared in late October 2016 the research station has had to be relocated over the last few years.

Scientists have been closely monitoring the growth of the crack through satellite imagery and now NASA say it is the "countdown to calving" after another massive chasm started growing in the area.

Ice calving is where an iceberg breaks away from the edge of a larger body of ice is a natural process that regularly happens.

a person riding a wave in the ocean: The crack has been growing at a rate of around 2.5 miles per year © Getty Images The crack has been growing at a rate of around 2.5 miles per year Another recent example was the 2017 calving of a Delaware-sized iceberg from the Larsen C ice shelf that broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula.

a close up of a map: The broken ice, known as the Halloween crack, first appeared in late October 2016 © EARTH OBSERATORY/NASA The broken ice, known as the Halloween crack, first appeared in late October 2016

But the calving at Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf is unusual as NASA say that the region was originally thought of as stable.

However, the crack has been growing at a rate of around 2.5 miles per year.

Pictures from NASA's Operational Land Imager show how the crack has grown eastwards from an area dubbed the McDonald Ice Rumples.

In a statement, the space agency said: "It is not yet clear how the remaining ice shelf will respond following the break, posing an uncertain future for scientific infrastructure and a human presence on the shelf that was first established in 1955.

a close up of a map: “The rumples are due to the way ice flows over an underwater formation © EARTH OBSERATORY/NASA “The rumples are due to the way ice flows over an underwater formation

“The rumples are due to the way ice flows over an underwater formation, where the bedrock rises high enough to reach into the underside of the ice shelf.

“This rocky formation impedes the flow of ice and causes pressure waves, crevasses, and rifts to form at the surface.”

The latest crack has led to concerns about the Halley Research Station, which is run by the British Antarctic Survey.

Usually, the base runs year-round, but the “unpredictable changes” to the ice has meant it has had to shut down twice over the last few years.

Chris Shuman, a glaciologist with NASA, said in a statement: “The likely future loss of the ice on the other side of the Halloween Crack suggests that more instability is possible, with associated risk to Halley VI.”

A spokesperson from the BAS told Newsweek that the safety of its staff is the top priority and they are constantly monitoring the movement of the ice. 

She said: "Our most recent (February 10) high-resolution synthetic aperture radar image showed that the rate of widening of the crack does appear to have increased since mid-January, but not enough to cause alarm," she said.

"The station is designed to be relocatable. In 2017 BAS successfully relocated the station’s eight modules 23km (14 miles) upstream of a previously dormant ice chasm. 

"The frequency of relocation depends very much on how the ice behaves in the future.

"Our long-term ice monitoring project is designed to alert us of any significant change in the ice."

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