Scientists confirmed on Wednesday that an iceberg the size of Delaware has broken off from the Antarctic Peninsula, providing a look into how the Antarctic ice sheet could fall apart in the future as a consequence of human-caused climate change.
Experts have been monitoring a 120-mile-long crack on a floating ice shelf called Larsen C, the fourth largest in Antarctica, over the last couple of years. They were able to confirm that the massive iceberg — which is expected to be called A68 and makes up about 12% of Larsen C's total volume — broke off using NASA's Aqua MODIS satellite. (This technology can produce infrared images at a 1 km resolution.)
The break off, which is known as "calving" in the scientific community, has changed the aspect of the Antarctic peninsula forever.
MIDAS, a UK-based research team composed of scientists from Swansea University and Aberystwyth University, has been studying Larsen C since the rift began in 2014.
"The remaining shelf will be at its smallest ever known size," professor Adrian Luckman, Project MIDAS' lead researcher, told The New York Times. "This is a big change. Maps will need to be redrawn."
The team doesn't believe the calving occurred because of climate change, instead saying the event is something that has been happening for thousands of years.
"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," Dr. Martin O’Leary, another member of the project, said in a 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."
However, experts still believe the event can help predict what may happen if climate change ends up causing more rifts in the peninsula's ice shelves.
"While it might not be caused by global warming, it’s at least a natural laboratory to study how breakups will occur at other ice shelves to improve the theoretical basis for our projections of future sea level rise," Thomas P. Wagner, one of NASA’s main researchers studying the polar regions, told The Times.
Scientists expect that similar events will continue to happen. However, it doesn't mean the ice sheet break off will have an immediate impact on anyone: Scientists said the iceberg won't change the sea level because Larsen C was already floating previous the carving.
"This event does not directly affect anyone, and repercussions, if there are any, will not be felt for years," Luckman told CNN. "However, it is a spectacular and enormous geographical event which has changed the landscape."