One of the biggest icebergs on record is like a “niggling tooth” about to snap off Antarctica and will be an extra hazard for ships around the frozen continent as it breaks up, scientists said on Wednesday.
An area of the Larsen C ice shelf, about as big as the U.S. state of Delaware or the Indonesian island of Bali, is connected by just 13 km (8 miles) of ice after a crack has crept about 175 kms along the sheet, with a new jump last month.
“It’s keeping us all on tenterhooks,” Andrew Fleming, of the British Antarctic Survey, told Reuters of the lengthening and widening rift, adding “it feels like a niggling tooth” of a child as it comes loose.
Ice shelves are flat-topped areas of ice floating on the sea at the end of glaciers. The Larsen C ice is about 200 meters (656 ft) thick with about 20 meters jutting above the water.
Big icebergs break off Antarctica naturally, meaning scientists are not linking the rift to man-made climate change. The ice, however, is a part of the Antarctic peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.
“There is no other evidence of change on the ice shelf. This could simply be a single calving event which will then be followed by re-growth,” Adrian Luckman, a professor at the University of Swansea in Wales, told Reuters.
His team reckons the ice will break off within months, perhaps in days or years.