An iceberg containing around 315 billion tonnes of ice and measuring 1,636 square kilometres has just broken off the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
Named D28, it’s the biggest ‘berg to break off in more than 50 years, and is roughly the size of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Due to its vast size, the iceberg will have to be monitored and tracked, as it could pose a hazard to shipping routes.
The Amery Shelf hasn’t produced an iceberg this large since the 1960s, when a huge 9,000 square kilometre chunk broke off.
Now updated with the correct date labels in the gif pic.twitter.com/KxMzpBW2BI
— Stef Lhermitte (@StefLhermitte) September 30, 2019
Amery is the third-largest ice shelf in Antarctica, and is an extension of a number of glaciers that flow from the land into the sea. Scientists knew the iceberg would break off, as losing chunks of ice is how the ice streams maintain equilibrium, however the scale of D28 is almost unprecedented.
D28 broke off from an area on the Amery Shelf known as ‘Loose Tooth’, because of its resemblance to a child’s tooth.
Professor Helen Fricker, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told BBC News it was ‘the molar compared to a baby tooth’, and said they had predicted Loose Tooth would break away sometime between 2010 and 2015.
I am excited to see this calving event after all these years. We knew it would happen eventually, but just to keep us all on our toes, it is not exactly where we expected it to be.
Professor Fricker also said there is no link between the huge iceberg and climate change, as satellite data recorded since the 1990s shows the Amery Shelf to roughly be in balance with its environment, despite the strong surface melt it experienced this summer.
While there is much to be concerned about in Antarctica, there is no cause for alarm yet for this particular ice shelf.
However, the loss of such a large section of ice could alter the geometry of the Amery Shelf itself, influence the movement and behaviour of other areas, cracks and icebergs, and even the stability of Loose Tooth as a whole.
Everyone loves a big berg. Amery finally calves the expected whopper, but it's not the famous "Loose Tooth" segment. D28 is "the molar compared to a baby tooth" says @helenafricker https://t.co/c2LAsWXtsa Thanks @CopernicusEU & @StefLhermitte. We❤️Sentinel-1 pic.twitter.com/JRv0Dvd06t
— Jonathan Amos (@BBCAmos) September 30, 2019
Iceberg D28’s name was created by a classification system from the US National Ice Center, which sees the Antarctic divided into quadrants.
At around 210 metres thick, D28 is expected to travel westwards thanks to nearshore currents and winds, and over the next few years will eventually break apart and melt down completely.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.