An iceberg the size of Delaware split from Antarctica sometime in the last two days, capping weeks of speculation as to when the shelf would break loose.
NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the region this morning, capturing the rift between the shelf and the new berg with its MODIS instrument. The crack has been monitored for more than a decade, but it has grown at a quicker rate since 2014.
“Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position,” said Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at Swansea University in the U.S. and member of the MIDAS project team.
“This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”
The free-floating iceberg has reduced the area of the Larsen C ice shelf by 12%, according to MIDAS.
Since the trillion-plus ton piece of ice had been hanging on by just 2.8 miles, scientists turned to NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite to confirm the event. It’s infrared sensor has slightly higher resolution than MODIS’s infrared capabilities (750 m per pixel vs 1 km).
Scientists have also been monitoring it using the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite, which employs a radar sensor to see through cloud cover and the extended dark of night at the South Pole.