The breaking off of a giant iceberg from Antarctica likely isn’t a sign of climate change.
A one-trillion-tonne iceberg, measuring 5,800 square kilometres, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12, said scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey. The iceberg — about 200 square kilometres bigger than P.E.I. — has been close to breaking off for a few months.
While warming temperatures are a real concern, that likely isn’t the case this time, University of British Columbia professor Christian Schoof said.
Why did the iceberg break off?
While it does seem unusual, Schoof explained big icebergs have broken off Antarctica in the past, and it’s part of a natural process.
Scientists had been monitoring this particular piece of ice months, as they watched a crack grow more than 200 km along the ice shelf before it broke off.
Climate change likely isn’t the cause this time because there hasn’t been ice thinning, in fact this ice shelf has actually thickened, Schoof said. The Larsen C ice is about 200 metres thick with about 20 metres jutting above the water.
WATCH: Icebergs causing havoc in Atlantic shipping lanes
Do some icebergs break off because of climate change?
The Antarctic peninsula has warmed fast in recent decades, and that has been the cause of icebergs forming.
Two Antarctic ice shelves, Larsen A and B, farther north on the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in 1995 and 2002. It’s widely accepted that climate played a large role in those break ups, The Guardian reported.
Warmer temperatures also led to an earlier iceberg season in Newfoundland’s Iceberg Alley this year, as Greenland’s ice sheets melted quicker.
WATCH: Large iceberg visible off the coast of Newfoundland
What happens now?
The iceberg was already floating before it broke away, so there won’t be an impact on water levels, Schoof said. He compared it to a glass of water with an ice cube, saying the glass won’t become more full once the ice cube melts.
Safety, however, is a concern for ships that may encounter the massive chunk of ice. But that could take a while.
“This iceberg is very large, so it might take a while before it becomes a hazard,” he said, noting that bigger masses are easier to track and therefore avoid.
The iceberg could become more dangerous for travellers if it moves to the South Atlantic ocean, Schoof said.
— With files from Reuters, The Associated Press