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Massive Iceberg Breaks From Antarctic Ice Shelf: Scientists

"This puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position," said one glaciologist studying the trillion-tonne iceberg

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    An iceberg the size of a Great Lake broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antartica on Monday, July 11, 2017. Scientists say the iceberg won't raise the sea level, but cannot say whether or not the massive breakage was caused by human activity. (Published Wednesday, July 12, 2017)

    A huge iceberg the size of a Great Lake, one of the largest ever, split from an ice shelf in Antarctica sometime since Monday, according to researchers tracking its progress.

    The iceberg weighs more than a trillion tonnes, is larger than Rhode Island and contains twice the volume of Lake Erie, according to scientists with Project MIDAS, a British research group that monitors the Larsen C ice shelf.

    "The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict. It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments," said Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, the project's lead researcher.

    The iceberg had been been cracking away, or calving, from the ice shelf for months, but it surprised scientists by taking so long to break off completely, Luckman said. Satellite imagery incidated that the iceberg had calved.

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    Worldwide sea level won't be affected by the event because the Larsen C ice shelf is already floating, and calving of smaller icebergs is normal.

    But that ice shelf helps prevent glaciers from running off land in Antarctica and into the water, which could impact the sea level around the world, and the loss of the masssive iceberg reduces its size by 12 percent, according to the researchers.

    They note that a nearby ice shelf disintegrated in 2002, seven years after a large iceberg calved from it.

    "Although this is a natural event, and we're not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position," Swansea University glaciologist Martin O'Leary said in the statement. "This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable."