So Just How Big Is That New Iceberg?

Comparisons aplenty, but no consensus on whether climate change is culprit
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 12, 2017 12:31 PM CDT
We're Going to Need New Maps for Antarctica
This February 2017 image shows a rift in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.   (British Antarctic Survey via AP)

Welcome, iceberg A68. The trillion-ton chunk of ice broke off from an Antarctic ice shelf at some point over the last few days and is now officially its own entity. If "trillion-ton" is a little hard to grasp (more on that below), just know that the long-expected breakaway means that maps of Antarctica will have to be redrawn, notes Vox. The ice shelf from which it came, known as Larsen C, is now 12% smaller and dropped in the rankings of ice shelves from No. 4 to No. 5, per a map from the Antarctic Report. Coverage:

  • What happened: For the basics, see this New York Times graphic, complete with maps and explainers. Scientists had been watching the rift grow for years, and they spotted a dramatic 90-degree turn in May.
  • No. 3: A video from Tech Insider says A68 (the name isn't official yet) could rank as the third-largest iceberg in history. It's 620 feet thick and covers 2,200 square miles. The video also explores why the crack began accelerating in 2014, once it broke through a protective "suture zone" of the ice shelf.
  • Climate change? There's no scientific consensus on whether climate change is to blame because iceberg "calving" is a natural process in the Antarctic. But the debate is on: "For me, there is no doubt that this event is not part of a natural cycle," a NASA and UC-Irvine scientist tells the Washington Post. "We're not aware of any link to human-induced climate change," says a Swansea University glaciologist.

  • Comparisons: Media outlets tried to make the size relatable to local readers, which is why we learned the iceberg is "about the size of Delaware" (NBC News), "twice the size of Luxembourg" (Guardian), "a quarter the size of Wales" (BBC), "roughly the size of ... the Indonesian island of Bali" (Reuters), "roughly four times the size of the city of London" (UPI), "deeper than the Eiffel Tower is tall" (USA Today), and has "twice the volume of Lake Erie" (the AP), and on and on.
  • The shelf: Researchers will be keeping a close eye on whether the Larsen C shelf collapses, as did the Larsen A and B shelves before it. It could regrow or "suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse—opinions in the scientific community are divided," says a Swansea University researcher, per Project MIDAS. "Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”
  • Shipping lanes: The iceberg isn't in commercial shipping lanes, but it could affect Antarctic cruise ships, reports Reuters.
  • Sea levels: Scientists say these won't be affected because the iceberg was already floating, per Quartz.
  • Where it's going: Ocean currents are likely to take the iceberg north, perhaps as far as the Falkland Islands, per Business Insider, which has accompanying maps. Eventually, those warmer waters in the north could spell its demise, however.
(More icebergs stories.)

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