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July 19, 2017

A trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware broke off the Antarctic Peninsula

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  • An enormous iceberg more than 2000 sq. miles in diameter recently detached from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica and floated into the Weddell Sea, located south of the tip of South America.
    • The volume of the iceberg is said to be twice that of Lake Erie and when it broke, the Larsen C ice shelf became 12 percent smaller.
  • Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist at the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that the rift was fueled by rising sea and air temperatures. If every glacier in West Antarctica dropped into the water, the sea level would rise by an estimated 15 feet.
  • Brunt said that ice shelves such as the Larsen C are connected to glaciers on the Antarctic landmass but float in the water like an ice cube in a glass. When an ice cube melts, it doesn’t add to the height of water in a glass. Similarly, collapsed ice shelves do not have a direct impact on sea level rise.
    • However, when ice shelves collapse, upstream glaciers flow more quickly, which is similar to putting more ice cubes into water and letting them melt.
  • Over the coming years, scientists will be working to determine the stability and flow speed of the glacier that was behind this chunk of the Larsen C shelf.
  • Icebergs are chunks of ice larger than 16 feet across. Sections three to 16 feet above sea level are called “bergy bits” and even smaller chunks are called “growlers.”

  1. Essential question: What are the consequences of climate change on cold weather environments, like Antarctica?
  2. How does climate change in Antarctica affect other parts of the world?
  3. What challenges will people living in coastal regions face if sea level rise accelerates in coming years?
  4. Does the iceberg directly affect global sea levels? Explain your answer. If it doesn’t directly affect sea level, how might it be indirectly impactful?

Key Terms:

ice shelf: a floating ice sheet attached to a landmass

glaciologist: a person who studies geological phenomena involving the action of ice and glaciers

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