New video from Antarctica is showing the scope of one of the biggest icebergs on record after it broke away from the continent in July 2017, and scientists are set to embark on an expedition to study a new ecosystem uncovered by the break.
The iceberg, named A-68, weighs in at one trillion tonnes and measures 5,800 square kilometres — about four times the size of London, U.K.
It broke away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf sometime between July 10 and 12 of last year, according to scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
During the Antarctic winter, the progress of the rift in the ice shelf was monitored. Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman told Reuters it was one of the largest ever recorded, but that its “future progress is difficult to predict.”
The calving of the ice did, however, reduce the area of the shelf by more than 12 per cent.
“It may remain in one piece, but is more likely to break into fragments,” he said.
Video provided by BAS, taken in December 2017, shows both the massive iceberg as well as where the split occurred.
When it broke, it was cautioned that the ice would pose a risk to ships, particularly cruise ships, as the peninsula is the main destination for cruises visiting from South America.
Glaciologist David Vaughan, BAS’s director of science, said last year that the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which fell in 1995 and 2002 respectively, resulted in the “dramatic acceleration” of the glaciers behind them.
“If Larsen C now starts to retreat significantly and eventually collapses, then we will see another contribution to sea-level rise,” he told Reuters.
With the breaking of the ice, a team of scientists from nine institutes is set to leave Feb. 21 on an expedition to the Antarctic.
WATCH: Scientists heading on expedition to Antarctica to view new ecosystem following iceberg’s split from ice shelf
The BAS says it is investigating a “mysterious marine ecosystem” which had been hidden under the ice shelf but has now been uncovered due to the break.
“The calving of A-68 provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to dramatic environmental change,” said BAS marine biologist Katrin Linse in a statement.
“It’s important to get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize.”
Seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water samples will be collected using video cameras and a special sledge to be pulled along the sea floor to collect tiny animals. The expedition’s purpose is to “provide a picture of what life under the ice shelf was like.”
They’ll also be recording any mammals and birds that may have moved into the area.
Vaughan said in a statement on the BAS website that the expedition is “an opportunity to address questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change.
“We need to be bold on this one. Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be,” he added.
Big icebergs break off in Antarctica naturally, so scientists are not linking the rift that occurred in July to man-made climate change. However, Reuters reports the iceberg is part of the Antarctic peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.
—With files from Reuters