In the vast frozen expanse of Antarctica, there has been something of an upheaval recently as a huge iceberg broke off the Brunt Ice Shelf at the end of February. Roughly double the size of the city of Mumbai, the break from the 150 metre thick ice shelf came almost a decade after scientists at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) first detected growth of vast cracks in the ice.
Having broken away, the iceberg will soon have it's own name. Presently it has been informally dubbed ‘A-74’.
Visuals shared by the BAS on Twitter show a seemingly endless expanse of ice with a deep and jagged break running across the middle. The Brunt Ice Shelf which borders the Antarctic coast of the Coats Land region is also the home of the Halley Research Station.
Interestingly enough, the BAS had moved the Station inland four years ago to "ensure that it would not be carried away when an iceberg eventually formed". Days before the break occurred, the 12-person team working at the station had left as the outpost closed for the Antarctic winter.
The crack, also dubbed 'Chasm 1' has been growing continuously since 2012. According to a press note by the BAS, the first indications of an imminent calving event came in November 2020 when a new chasm called North Rift headed towards another large chasm near the Stancomb-Wills Glacier Tongue 35 km away. North Rift is the third major crack through the ice shelf to become active in the last decade.
The European Space Agency also shared radar images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission that show the 1270 sq km iceberg breaking free and moving away rapidly from the floating ice shelf.
But can this have any repercussions? While scientists have been expecting the calving for some time now, ESA researcher Mark Drinkwater was quoted as saying that there could be some unforeseen updates on the situation. "Over the following weeks and months, the iceberg could be entrained in the swift south-westerly flowing coastal current, run aground or cause further damage by bumping into the southern Brunt Ice Shelf," he explained.