Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A massive chunk of ice –– twice the size of New York City –– is preparing to break away from Antarctica and go adrift in the southern ocean. A new report from NASA says that the break will take place very soon, taking more than 660 square miles (1709 sq. km) of the Brunt Ice Shelf with it.
Satellite imager of the ice shelf show two large cracks spreading through the region, both moving towards one another. Once those two cracks connect, the large slab of frozen water will break free from Antarctica in one of the largest such events to take place in the past few years. That is expected to take place sometime in the next few weeks, as this once stable section of the frozen continent starts to crumble under increasing environmental challenges.
For the past 35 years the Brunt Ice Shelf has appeared to weather the global warming storm with surprising ease. Up until recently, it didn’t display many signs of rising temperatures. But now, it is being hit with both warmer air and warmer seas, which is causing it to crumble at an accelerated rate. While this massive iceberg isn’t nearly as large as some of the other we’ve seen in recent years, the fact that it is coming from this particular region of Antarctica is nevertheless alarming. The Brunt has never lost a chunk of ice this large before and it could be a harbinger of things to come.
Of immediate concern is the a research base operated by the British Antarctic Survey. The settlement which serves as a home for researchers and climatologists is located close to where the two cracks are expected to meet. This could endanger the station, which has been abandoned in the past due to unstable conditions. At this point, it is unclear what will happen when the ice shelf starts to break apart. The hope is the base will be fine, but it could be damaged or lost as part of the break up.
Again, we have yet another canary in the coal mine when it comes to how climate change is impacting the planet. Antarctica is giving us a glimpse of what is happening and I would expect we’ll see more of these breaks in the coming months and years.