Massive iceberg breaks off Antarctica

A huge iceberg that has been slowly separating from Antarctica finally broke free Wednesday morning.

Researchers say the break is not necessarily a sign of global climate change, but it is unusual because this iceberg is roughly the size of the Olympic Peninsula (5,800 square kilometers).

“We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice,” said Adrian Luckman of Swansea University. “We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg.”

Scientists said the latest iceberg break won’t affect sea levels in the short term.

NASA and European Space Agency satellites have been monitoring the shelf — offering dramatic pictures of the break that heightened interest beyond the scientific community. The final break was first revealed in a thermal infrared image from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument.

Scientists from the U.K.-based Antarctic project, MIDAS, have been monitoring the rift in Larsen C for years, following earlier research on the collapse of the Larsen A shelf in 1995 and the breakup of the Larsen B shelf in 2002.

The project, which is investigating the effects of a warming climate through a combination of fieldwork, satellite observation and computer simulation, describes the iceberg as one of the largest ever recorded.

They researchers suggest the iceberg is likely to break into fragments and say that while some of the ice may stay nearby for decades, parts of it may drift north into warmer waters. But researchers say much more study needs to be done to determine the cause.

“At this point it would be premature to say that this was caused by global warming,” said Anna Hogg of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds.