While Antarctica is full of icebergs, one unique and strange monolith-like slab of ice has caught the attention of NASA.
Scientists were flying over Antarctica when they spotted the massive, rectangular iceberg off the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, near the Larsen C ice shelf.
Known as a ‘tabular iceberg’, the straight, flat, frozen block looks like it’s been deliberately cut into shape using a ruler and protractor. It’s thought to have broken away very recently, indicated by the sharp angles of the massive iceberg.
Think of it like an ice cube for a giant.
The space agency shared a picture of the scene on Twitter, writing:
From yesterday’s #IceBridge flight: A tabular iceberg can be seen on the right, floating among sea ice just off of the Larsen C ice shelf. [sic]
The iceberg’s sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf
From yesterday's #IceBridge flight: A tabular iceberg can be seen on the right, floating among sea ice just off of the Larsen C ice shelf. The iceberg's sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf. pic.twitter.com/XhgTrf642Z
— NASA ICE (@NASA_ICE) October 17, 2018
The berg has been estimated to be around a mile long, and as much as people want to believe aliens are behind its intriguing shape, according to Kelly Brunt – an ice scientist with NASA – the tabular break of ice isn’t actually all that uncommon.
Kelly explained to Live Science:
We get two types of icebergs: We get the type that everyone can envision in their head that sank the Titanic, and they look like prisms or triangles at the surface and you know they have a crazy subsurface.
And then you have what are called ‘tabular icebergs’. Tabular icebergs are wide and flat, and long, like sheet cake.
Tabular icebergs form through a process that’s a bit like a fingernail growing too long and cracking off at the end. They’re often rectangular and geometric as a result. What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square.
NASA took the photo as part of an ongoing mission known as ‘Operation IceBridge’, which monitors the way ice in Earth’s polar regions has changed in recent years.
Their website explains:
Using a fleet of research aircraft, NASA’s Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice to better understand connections between polar regions and the global climate system.
IceBridge studies annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets. ICEBridge bridges the gap between the ICESat missions.
Scientists have been keeping a close eye on the Larsen C shelf since a massive iceberg, known as A-68, broke free and started to spin. It’s the sixth largest iceberg scientists have on record.
According to a release from Newcastle University, marine biologist, Dr Katrin Linse, spoke about what scientists can learn from the break, explaining:
The calving of A-68 provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change.
It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise.
We’ve put together a team with a wide range of scientific skills so that we can collect as much information as possible in a short time. It’s very exciting.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.