As Earth’s climate has been warming ice located at the poles has been dramatically changing. Ice shelves have been breaking apart into glaciers have been melting into ocean water, raising sea levels. The pace of this change has been proceeding astonishingly fast. One example can be seen at Montana’s Glacier National Park which has lost 120 of the 150 glaciers that were present when the park was founded in 1910. Experts predict that the remaining ice has shrunk in area by two-thirds and will disappear entirely within three decades.

Recently, another stage in the progress of melting ice is about to become reality: an iceberg that is twice the size of New York City is about to break off into the water. Its release into the ocean has been monitored for years and considered catastrophic for the climate change process. Is it a tipping point for the effects of climate change on the planet? Maybe. But it also may be just a piece of the larger picture of how the planet changes over time.

About The Iceberg

The anticipated iceberg is currently part of the Brunt Ice Shelf, which had maintained a large crack in its structure that scientists noticed in 2016. Scientists anticipated that the crack would only lengthen and named it the ‘Halloween Crack.’  Additionally, a second large crack, which previously was dormant,  is moving and headed towards the Halloween Crack. When the cracks meet, the new iceberg is expected to measure 660 square miles wide and approximately 500 miles deep.

Effects Of The New Iceberg

If the Brunt Ice Shelf essentially has a baby, it would be a large enough newborn iceberg that it could trigger additional breaks and, possibly, the collapse of the entire shelf. It could also be so large that the structure becomes stuck in the ocean once it begins to move. Scientists aren’t completely sure. Surprisingly, the creation of a new iceberg isn’t necessarily expected to contribute to seawater rise, at least not immediately. That’s because as temperatures rise, ice shelves as well as icebergs, are losing mass through melting. Though icebergs may ultimately melt more quickly than their larger counterparts, both contribute to rising sea levels.

Loss of the ice shelf will also have a dramatic impact on scientists’ research capabilities since an important research station, Great Britan’s Halley VI Research Station is located there. Staff and as much equipment as possible have already been moved further inland in anticipation of the ice shelf break. The research station, which was typically open throughout the year, also closed for the Winter season because of how unpredictable conditions on the shelf have become.

Not The Largest Ice Break

While the anticipated break would form the largest iceberg seen yet from the Brunt Ice Shelf, it wouldn’t be the largest on the planet. According to Chris Readinger, a physical scientist at the US National Ice Center, it might not even “be in the top 20 of the biggest bergs. Its a sizeable berg for sure, but it wouldn’t be historical in terms of size.” What other bergs were bigger? In July of 2017, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off of the Larsen-C ice shelf. Other large icebergs are also expected to separate. On West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, scientists are monitoring a rift that has just six miles to go until completion. When this occurs, the new iceberg will likely be about five times the size of Manhattan, or 115 square miles.

Scientists are closely monitoring ice breaks throughout Antarctica, both those that have already happened and ones from the past. Their careful observations will help predict and manage the effects of a changing earth and, hopefully, prepare as best as possible for what will come.