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Iceberg bigger than Las Vegas breaks off from Antarctic ice shelf after 'small crack'

Iceberg bigger than Las Vegas breaks off from Antarctic ice shelf after 'small crack'

Experts say the event is unrelated to climate change.

An iceberg larger than the city of Las Vegas has broken off the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

This 380 square-kilometre (147 square-mile) slab of ice separated from the shelf on the morning of May 20.

It started off as a crack that first appeared a few weeks ago, at a right angle to the existing Halloween Crack, but gradually turned into a 14-kilometre (8.7-mile) long chunk.

Funnily enough, the Halloween Crack was appropriately named in that it was discovered on October 31, 2016.

The newly solo ice is set to be officially named by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as 'A-83', which has been monitoring the break.

Of course, leave it to social media to ask the experts to come up with a slightly more exciting and creative name.

Alexander Hafemann/Unsplash
Alexander Hafemann/Unsplash

A-83 is also the third major iceberg to break off the Brunt Ice Shelf in the last four years. Last January, an iceberg the size of Greater London calved, following a slightly smaller break nearly the size of Los Angeles two years earlier.

'This calving was expected since the appearance of Halloween Crack eight years ago and reduces the total area of the ice shelf to its smallest extent since monitoring began,' said BAS glaciologist Dr. Oliver Marsh.

'Tabular iceberg calving is part of the natural behaviour of ice shelves but often causes large changes in ice shelf geometry and can impact local ocean circulation.'


Fortunately, the BAS had already relocated the nearby Halley Research Station which monitors the ice shelf, after a large crack known as Chasm-1 reactivated and began to widen.

While climate change can influence ice shelves, scientists say this series of breaks isn’t linked to it, though it may impact the local environment. Regardless, the series of events is nothing short of 'concerning' according to Swansea University’s Professor Adrian Luckman.

'Antarctica’s floating ice shelves grow gradually by ice flow and shrink episodically by iceberg calving. The balance between these two processes impacts their ability to hold back ice on land,' he said.

'It is concerning, therefore, that even in this relatively cold sector of Antarctica there have now been three large iceberg calvings in the last 3-4 years.'

However, it is hoped that data from the Brunt Ice Shelf will help scientists better understand the calving process and improve predictions of how ice shelves might change in the future.

Featured Image Credit: British Antarctic Survey / ESA