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© NASA

Antarctic iceberg set to break away

06/01/17Environment

Scientists have said that an iceberg expected to be one of the ten largest ever recorded is ready to break away from Antarctica.

A long-running rift in the Larson C ice shelf grew in December and now just 20km of ice is keeping the 5,000km2 piece from floating away.

Larsen C is the most northern major ice shelf in Antarctica.

Researchers based in Swansea, UK, say the loss of the piece will leave the whole shelf vulnerable to future break-up.

Larsen C is around 350m thick and floats on the seas at the edge of west Antarctica, holding back the flow of glaciers that feed into it.

Researchers have been tracking the rift in Larsen C for years, after the collapse of Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the Larsen B shelf in 2002.

Last year, researchers from the UK’s Project MIDAS reported that the Larsen C rift was growing fast.

Project leader Professor Adrian Luckman, from Swansea University, said: “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.

“There hasn’t been enough cloud-free Landsat images but we’ve managed to combine a pair of ESA Sentinel-1 radar images to notice this extension, and it’s so close to calving that I think it’s inevitable.”

Luckman says the area that will break off will be some 5,000km2, a size he says that would put the iceberg among the top ten biggest that have been recorded.

The researchers say that this is a geographical and not a climate event.

Luckman added: “The eventual consequences might be the ice shelf collapsing in years to decades.

“Even the sea level contribution of this area is not on anybody’s radar; it’s just a big geographical event that will change the landscape there.”