Iceberg the Size of London Breaks off Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf

Brunt Ice Shelf Breaks Off

The chunk of iceberg the size of London separates from the Brunt Ice Shelf on January 24, 2023. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview and Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey)

Antarctica is known for adorable penguins and vast sheets of cold icecaps. While this foreboding landscape may look monotonous, it is subject to change just like any place on Earth. Scientists have noted that icecaps on both poles are suffering due to the climate crisis. But some big changes are part of natural cycles; in January 2023, the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica “calved” a giant iceberg the size of greater London.

Calving is the process by which icebergs break from the ice shelf. This is a form of regulation by the ice sheet. As glaciers on land accumulate snow and ice, they push on the ice sheets over the water. Icebergs on the edges break off to float on its own naturally to maintain an equilibrium. While climate change has affected the cycle in other Antarctic regions, the Brunt region has seemed to maintain a more natural rhythm. Scientists were expecting a calving, as the chasm along which the ice split had been growing since the 1970s at a pace that varied over the years.

The chunk which broke off is known as A-81. It is about 490 to 660 feet (150 to 200 meters) thick and about 600 square miles in area. The break itself occurred on late January 22, 2023. Thankfully, the separation has not stranded the researchers at the nearby British Antarctic Survey’s Halley Research Station.

Much remains to be learned about the new floating iceberg. “We have no solid idea what ‘normal’ really is for this unusual ice shelf,” said Christopher Shuman, a University of Maryland glaciologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement.

Despite this calving not being related to climate change, Antarctic sea ice is at the lowest in the 45-year satellite record. Scientists continue to track these patterns in the hopes of better understanding this fascinating ice.

A chunk of iceberg the size of greater London has broken off the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

The cracks appeared about ten years ago, and in January the 600-square mile chunk departed from the main ice.

Brunt Ice Shelf

The Brunt Ice Shelf in 2011. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

h/t: [CNN, BBC]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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