Breakaway of trillion-ton Antarctic iceberg 'troubling': scientists

Updated 2017-07-13 14:20:41 Xinhua

Australian scientists on Thursday described the breaking-off of a one-trillion-ton iceberg from Antarctica as "deeply troubling."

The Larsen C shelf, measuring 5,800 square kilometers, broke away from Antarctica between July 10 and July 12, scientists in the United Kingdom (UK) confirmed on Wednesday.

It was the third such incident in the part of Antarctica closest to South America after the Larsen A and B shelves collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

Nathan Bindoff, head of the Oceans and Cryosphere Program at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), said that the break-away would accelerate the thinning of ice in Antarctica, meaning more breakaways are imminent.

"Big icebergs breaking off the major ice-shelves are a critical component of the story around the fate of the Antarctic Ice Sheet," Bindoff said in a statement obtained by Xinhua on Thursday.

"The ice shelves buttress the Antarctic Ice Sheet and slow the rate of ice loss from Antarctica. So a major iceberg like this one means we will see an acceleration of the grounded glaciers behind the Larsen C shelf.

"Amazingly, this glacier acceleration will contribute to further sea-level rise in next few years. We saw precisely this behavior for sea-level when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up."

Despite the collapse being a natural process, Ian Simmonds, a professor at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said man-made global warming had accelerated the process.

"The calving of this huge iceberg from the Larsen C ice shelf is deeply troubling. This follows the collapse of part of the Larsen B ice shelf in February 2002," Simmonds said.

"The causes of these breakups are similar. Temperatures have risen dramatically in the region over recent decades. This has meant that summer temperatures now frequently get above freezing, and the associated surface melting significantly weakens the ice shelves."

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