Global warming has been one of the scarier trending topics for years now. Climate change is something that our society has to begin tackling now in order to ensure that future generations don’t suffer from the damage that humans have caused to the planet over the last few decades. Millennials, in particular, have grown up with the implications of global warming being a tangible reality. Consequently, alongside creating Papier-mâché volcanoes in Geography, we studied the hole in the ozone layer and the properties of greenhouse gases. However, in recent years there has been an increased focus on the effect that global warming has already had on Antarctica and the majestic creatures that call it home.
If you’re a user of a little thing called the internet, I can guarantee that you’ve seen picture after picture of forlorn polar bears and penguins who are struggling with the rate at which their habitat is being destroyed. Whilst their plight has caught the public’s consciousness for the better, our own land is also under threat. The melting of Antarctica’s gargantuan ice-sheet is contributing to rising sea levels, which are threatening a number of low-lying nations including China, Japan and Indonesia. But now scientists have reason to urge that something be done imminently as a one-trillion tonne iceberg has just broken off the Antarctic ice shelf.
Satellite data has confirmed that a trillion-tone iceberg, which measures a whopping 5,800 sq km, has broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf. The iceberg is twice the size of Luxembourg and its plummet into the Weddell Sea has drastically altered the surrounding landscape.
UK Based Antarctica research project, MIDAS confirmed the news on social media platform Twitter on Wednesday morning. The Guardian reported that the loss wasn’t a complete surprise for scientists as it was described as “hanging by a thread” only last month.
In a blog post, Project Midas wrote:
“A one trillion tonne iceberg – one of the biggest ever recorded – has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
The calving occurred sometime between Monday 10 July and Wednesday 12 July 2017, when a 5,800-square km section of Larsen C finally broke away.
The calving of this iceberg leaves the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent, and the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula changed forever.”
Scientists have asserted that there has been no immediate impact on sea level because the iceberg was already floating before it broke off from Larsen C. However, researchers do have reason to worry as there is a possibility that the ice shelf may face the same fate as Larsen B which disintegrated into the sea in 2002 after it had a similar loss in 1995. As Andrew Hogg, expert in satellite observations of glaciers from the University of Leeds asserts, “it is a really major event in terms of the size of the ice tablet that we’ve got now drifting away”.
The giant crack that caused the split in Larsen C increased over a number of years but sped up rapidly between the 24th – 27th June 2017. During this time frame, the movement of the ice reached a rate of more than 10 meters a day.
The response from the scientific community has been rather reserved. Whilst co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change & Environment has in the past stated that, “there is enough ice in Antarctica that if it all melted, or even just flowed into the ocean, sea levels [would] rise by 60 metres,” his response to today’s news has been one of calm reassurance. He simply commented that he was “not unduly concerned about” it”, pointing out that it’s not the “first mega-iceberg ever to have formed”.
One way of interpreting the researchers’ response is to understand that no conclusions can be drawn until the long-term implications are clear. Adrian Luckman of Swansea University corroborated, “we will have to wait years or decades to know what will happen to the remainder of Larsen C,” and used the eventual disintegration of Larsen B as an example.
Scientists were also anxious to stress that the release of the iceberg wasn’t necessarily a direct result of climate change. Calling for speculators to understand the context of the situation, Dr Martin O’Leary of Swansea University emphasised that this was a “natural event” and that researchers aren’t currently “aware of any link to human-induced climate change”. Project Midas echoed this sentiment when they retweeted the following post to their Twitter wall:
Whilst the release of the iceberg is certainly alarming, the response from researchers has calmed the majority of our fears that the calving would wreck immediate havoc. Regardless, if the news has made some people realise how pressing global warming is, then something positive has come from an otherwise significant loss.