There’s a new baby in town. No, I don’t mean Grimes’ and Elon Musk’s new baby, X Æ A-12, although this other baby’s name is about as robot-like. I’m talking, of course, about A-68C, the new little iceberg that broke off Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf in late April. What a cutie pie!
The new infant ‘berg is the child of Iceberg A-68A, a section of the Larsen C shelf which broke away in July 2017 and became the largest free-floating block of ice in Antarctica. It’s since drifted out to sea. The new A-68C is about 11 nautical miles long and 7 nautical miles wide – a perfect angel! That’s small compared to its parent, A-68A, which now measures more than 2,100 square nautical miles and is still the largest floating iceberg on the planet. But the baby ‘berg is still large enough for scientists to name and track it. A-68C has one sibling, which broke off in 2017.
By early April this year, A-68A had drifted into warm waters as it drifted northward away from the Antarctic Peninsula. That foretold its breakup, and now the pair of wandering ‘bergs are drifting in the South Atlantic Ocean near the South Orkney Islands.
Not to put a damper on this new arrival, but this beautiful moment captured by NASA satellites isn’t great news. Warming waters aren’t just causing floating icebergs to break up, they’re also putting Iceberg A68-C’s grandparent, the Larsen C Ice Shelf, at risk of collapsing. If it does, it would follow its former neighbours Larsen A and B into oblivion. The causes are largely natural. But without the floating ice shelf to act as a buttress, more land ice con the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula could slide into the ocean and contribute to rising seas.
Warming atmospheric and water temperatures threaten ice elsewhere in the Antarctic, too. The glaciers in West Antarctica are in particular trouble and could face unstoppable collapse. If that happens, sea levels could rise by more than 10 feet. The glaciers of the A-68 family, which are drifting into warmer waters and will likely break up even further, are a reminder of the calamity the climate crisis could cause far beyond Antarctica.
Featured image: Brian Kahn/NASA Worldview