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An Iceberg, the Size of London, Broke off in Antarctica

A massive iceberg broke off, but it seems that it has nothing to do with climate change.

News of large iceberg break-ups have become a constant in recent decades. About a year ago, there was a massive detachment involving a 1,270 square-kilometer iceberg. Now, just a few days ago, an iceberg the size of London broke off its ice shelf. We know that climate change has been accelerating the melting of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica, but this time it appears that climate has little to do with the breakup of this iceberg.

What Is an Iceberg and Why Do They Break Off?

The polar regions and Antarctica are formed by huge masses of ice known as glaciers; due to several reasons, these masses eventually break up giving rise to icebergs, which are large slabs of ice that float in the oceans because they have broken off from the glaciers. In general, icebergs are formed by frost and snow that have the sea as their only support.

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Iceberg calving is a normal event in the life cycle of a glacier-fed ice shelf, even when the calved icebergs are huge. When this happens, the lost ice is replaced over years or decades, only when the rate of glacier detachment accelerates significantly over a prolonged period is the system considered to be in retreat.

According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), an organization that researches the polar regions, iceberg calving is a natural process and is not normally caused by climate change or any environmental crisis currently being experienced.

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Iceberg the Size of London

The iceberg in question, measuring some 1,550 square kilometers, broke off from the floating ice shelf known as Brunt, where the BAS Halley research station is based, just a decade after scientists first detected huge cracks in the shelf.

The block of ice broke off when the crack, known as Chasm-1, extended through the ice shelf. The Brunt shelf is probably the most closely monitored shelf on Earth, as measurements of the shelf are taken every hour around the clock with a network of 16 high-precision GPS instruments.

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“This episode of detachment was to be expected and is part of the natural behavior of the Brunt Ice Shelf,” stated BAS glaciologist Dominic Hodgson. In fact, it had already been reported that glaciologists and operational staff at Halley had already anticipated this event.

British Research Station

The British research station Halley VI, which was relocated inland for safety concerns around 2016 as ice cries threaten to leave it isolated, monitors the condition of the large floating ice shelf daily, which has not been affected by the latest breakup.

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[Photo: BAS]

Since the relocation, work on the platform is only carried out during the Antarctic summer, which runs from November to March. It currently has 21 researchers on site, who maintain the power supplies and facilities that allow them to continue to operate and report remotely during the winter. When it is dark for 24 hours and the temperature drops below -50°C (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Our operational science teams continue to monitor the ice shelf in real time to ensure its safety and maintain the delivery of the science we conduct at Halley,” said Hodgson.

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According to the world leader in environmental research in the region, the planes are scheduled to pick up the scientists on the platform around February 6.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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