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Giant iceberg larger than Los Angeles breaks off from ice shelf in east Antarctica

ABOVE: An iceberg the size of Sydney has calved off Antarctica in a major event not seen on the ice shelf in almost 60 years, the Australian Antarctic Program reported on October 1.

A gigantic iceberg larger than the city of Los Angeles has broken off from an ice shelf in east Antarctica.

The enormous 1,636-square-kilometre iceberg separated or “calved” from the Amery Ice Shelf in east Antarctica on Sept. 26, the Australian Government’s Antarctic Division said in a news release on Tuesday.

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Researchers have been studying the ice shelf since the 1960s, with the last major calving event recorded in 1963-64.

According to Helen Amanda Fricker, a professor with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, researchers do not believe this calving event is linked to climate change.

She added, however, that the event underscores the importance of long-term observations in Antarctica so that scientists can better differentiate climate-change-induced events from the natural “background” cycle.

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She says while there is “much to be concerned about in Antarctica,” there is “no cause for alarm yet” for this particular ice shelf.

“It’s part of the ice shelf’s normal cycle, where we see major calving events every 60-70 years,” she said.

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Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Program run by the Australian Antarctic Division, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and Scripps Institution of Oceanography had been closely monitoring the ice shelf for nearly 20 years.

“We first noticed a rift at the front of the ice shelf in the early 2000s and predicted a large iceberg would break off between 2010-2015,” Fricker said in the release.

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She said she is “excited” to see the calving event after all these years.

“We knew it would happen eventually,” she said. “But just to keep us all on our toes, it is not exactly where we expected it to be.”

The Amery Ice shelf is located between Australia’s Davis and Mawson research stations and is the third largest in Antarctica.

According to the release, instruments are currently deployed on the ice to measure the impact of ocean melt and ice flow.

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Last week’s calving event was detected by satellite imagery, Australian Antarctic Program glaciologist Ben Galton-Fenzi said.

He said the event will not directly affect sea level because the ice shelf was already floating, “much like an ice cube in a glass of water.”

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“But what will be interesting to see is how the loss of this ice will influence the ocean melting under the remaining ice shelf and the speed at which the ice flows off the continent,” he said in the release.

In a tweet posted Monday, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said the iceberg will continue to be monitored as it could become a hazard for shipping routes.