An enormous iceberg has broken from the western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf, and is lying in the Weddell Sea, in Antarctica
The world’s largest iceberg has calved from Antarctica over the past few days, a giant floating piece of ice close to 80 times the size of Manhattan.
The iceberg has broken off from the western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf within Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, the European Space Agency (ESA) had said Wednesday.
The iceberg is in the shape of a giant ironing board, measuring around 170 km (105 miles) in length and 25 km (15.5 miles) in width. That makes the iceberg slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca, the ESA has said.
Iceberg calving is part of a natural cycle, when huge chunks of ice break off the ice shelf at regular intervals. Scientists aren’t attributing this particular break-off to global climate change, and instead believe that it’s simply part of the natural cycle of iceberg calving within the Antarctic region.
This comes after environmental conservationists have expressed their “anger” after a beached whale has been found with 16kg of plastic waste inside its stomach. The cetacean, which was a female Cuvier’s beaked whale measuring just over 5 meters in length, washed up on a beach in Messanges within south-west France.
Once the iceberg melts, the new iceberg will not lead to a rise in sea level, because it was previously part of a floating ice shelf, just like a melting ice cube wouldn’t increase the level of the water in a glass.
That makes icebergs like this one different from glaciers or ice sheets, which are found on land, and do end up raising global sea levels when they break off into the ocean and start to melt. If Antarctica’s entire ice sheet were to melt, then it could raise sea levels by as much as nearly 190 feet.
ESA said that the iceberg was first spotted by Keith Makinson, who is a polar oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey last week and has since been confirmed using ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 imagery, from the US National Ice Centre.
The huge chunk of ice is now officially named the A-76. This title might sound a bit boring for the world’s largest iceberg, but it is based on science. ESA have said that icebergs are traditionally named from the Antarctic quadrant in which had been originally sighted, followed by a sequential number, then, if the iceberg later breaks off, a sequential letter.
While A-76 is the largest iceberg in the world at the moment, it wouldn’t make the pantheon of the 10 biggest icebergs in history.
“In the grand context of things this is not humungous. Of course it’s an evolution in the ice shelf,” says Mark Drinkwater of the European Space Agency.
This comes after microbiologists have devised a new sustainable way of removing polluting microplastics from the environment, and they want to use bacteria to achieve this feat.
Drinkwater says that the Ronne ice shelf is in a fairly “steady state” where it expands after losing an iceberg like this. One of its biggest calving events was in 1986, with icebergs totalling 11,000 square kilometres breaking off, followed by smaller ones in 1998, 2000 and 2015.
However, the new iceberg could still have a significant impact depending on where it ends up. Another iceberg last year, A-68a, at one point appeared on a pathway that could harm wildlife on the island of South Georgia but eventually broke up.
“It’s big enough to influence the ocean, and the salinity of the ocean. Depending on the trajectory, it could be as significant as A-68a,” says Brisbourne.