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Giant Iceberg Larger Than NYC Breaks off From Shelf in Antarctica

The culprit? Probably not the squirrel from the Ice Age.

Giant Iceberg Larger Than NYC Breaks off From Shelf in Antarctica
The crack captured by the research team in January 2021 British Antarctic Survey

Almost a decade after British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists first detected the vast cracks growing in it, an enormous iceberg, 490 square miles (1270 square kilometers) wide and nearly 500 feet (150 meters) thick, has split off from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

The iceberg's dramatic breakup, which is more than 20 times the size of Manhattan and bigger than New York City, comes following a major crack that had formed in November 2020. It was totally expected by the scientists. Following the many cracks in the ice shelf, a new chasm, known as the North Rift, started getting closer to another large crack in November. By January, the crack was growing a kilometer a day. The crack continued to develop over the months until it finally broke off on Feb. 26, Friday morning, according to a statement from BAS.

"Our teams at BAS have been prepared for the calving of an iceberg from Brunt Ice Shelf for years," BAS Director Jane Francis said. 

The BAS's Halley Research Station, which is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf to make atmospheric and space weather observations, was closed for the Antarctic winter with its staff having already left earlier in February. The press release states that the event shouldn’t pose any immediate threat to the research station and that the team was already prepared.

Giant Iceberg Larger Than NYC Breaks off From Shelf in Antarctica
Source: British Antarctic Survey

"This is a dynamic situation," said BAS director of operations Simon Garrod. "Four years ago we moved Halley Research Station inland to ensure that it would not be carried away when an iceberg eventually formed. That was a wise decision."

The team is getting daily updates about the condition of the crack thanks to an automated network of high-precision GPS instruments and satellite images. They'll now be keeping a closer eye on the situation and see whether they'll need to take further action to protect the research station.

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While this brings climate change to the mind, it might not be the culprit in this particular case. "Change in the ice at Halley is a natural process and there is no connection to the calving events seen on Larsen C Ice Shelf, and no evidence that climate change has played a significant role," states the BAS.

You can watch the video below to see the North Rift captured in an aerial video from mid-February.

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