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Gigantic Piece of Ice Going Rogue!

What do you put in your lemonade to make it cold in the summer? Ice? Imagine if your ice cube weighed about 1 trillion tons and  covered an area of 2,239 square miles. That's a whole lot of ice!

 NASA image of crack in an ice shelf from an ariel point of view

Earlier this week, a huge iceberg broke off of the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula to float freely on its own. Scientists have been watching this piece of ice since a crack developed in 2014, and were actually surprised it hadn't happened sooner!

One of the fears about gigantic icebergs is that they'll affect water levels, much in the way your lemonade glass might overflow if you put too many ice cubes in it. But because this ice was already floating in the water, scientists say it won't affect sea levels, even if it is about the size of the state of Delaware.

However, it could be a harbinger of things to come. If the shelf continues to break up into more and more chunks, the grounded ice could become free-floating, which would raise sea levels and affect the human population.

NASA/USGS Landsat satellites captured the growth of the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf from 2006 to 2017. Credit: NASA/USGS Landsat

Researchers point out that climate change is not necessarily at fault for this gigantic iceberg, which is historically in the top five largest icebergs of recorded time. Ice breaks off from Antarctica all the time. It's called calving, and it's part of the ice's natural cycle.

But as our climate continues to change, normal occurances like calving ice could have greater-than-usual consequences for the planet. Scientists are keeping their eyes on the ice to study how it's changing in reaction to the altered climate.

So where is the iceberg going to go? Studies have shown that icebergs often travel north and east of Antarctica, and they usually break up into smaller and smaller pieces as they do. Once they reach the warmer water of the Falkland Islands, they melt even more until eventually they are all water.

So often, change happens at a glacial (!) rate - it's fun and educational to be able to see Earth change in real time.


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