Antarctica gives birth to world's largest iceberg

Reuters
A giant slab of ice has sheared off from the frozen edge of Antarctica, becoming the largest iceberg in the world.
Reuters
Antarctica gives birth to worlds largest iceberg
Reuters

A satellite image of the newly calved iceberg, the largest currently afloat in the world.

A giant slab of ice bigger than the Spanish island of Majorca has sheared off from the frozen edge of Antarctica into the Weddell Sea, becoming the largest iceberg in the world, the European Space Agency said on Wednesday.

The new iceberg, designated A-76 by scientists, was spotted in recent satellite images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, the space agency said in a statement posted on its website with a photo of the enormous, oblong ice sheet.

Its surface spans 4,320 square kilometers and measures 175km in length and 25km in width.

By comparison, Spain’s tourist island of Majorca in the Mediterranean occupies 3,640 square kilometers.

A-76, which broke away from Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf, ranks as the largest existing iceberg on the planet, surpassing the now second-place A-23A, about 3,380 square kilometers in size and also floating in the Weddell Sea.

Another massive Antarctic iceberg that had threatened a penguin-populated island off the southern tip of South America has since lost much of its mass and broken into pieces, scientists said earlier this year.

A-76 was first detected by the British Antarctic Survey and confirmed by the Maryland-based US National Ice Center using imagery from Copernicus Sentinel-1, consisting of two polar-orbiting satellites.

The Ronne Ice Shelf near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the largest of several enormous floating sheets of ice that connect to the continent’s landmass and extend out into surrounding seas.

Periodic calving of large chunks of those shelves is part of a natural cycle, and the breaking off of A-76, likely to split into two or three soon, is not linked to climate change, said Ted Scambos, a research glaciologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Scambos said the Ronne and another vast ice shelf, the Ross, have “behaved in a stable, quasi-periodic fashion” over the past century or more. Because the ice was already floating, its breakaway does not raise ocean levels.

Some ice shelves along the Antarctic peninsula, farther from the South Pole, have undergone rapid disintegration in recent years, a phenomenon scientists believe may be related to global warming, according to the US National Snow & Ice Data Center.

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