A Delaware-sized Antarctic Iceberg Has Broken Into the Ocean

By Eric Betz | July 12, 2017 9:49 am
larsen c

A 70-mile-long crack runs across the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, months before it calved into the ocean. (Credit: Jeremy Harbeck)

After months of dangling on by a miles-thin thread of ice, an iceberg roughly the size of Delaware just calved off Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf and began drifting out into the ocean.

Scientists say the complete breakthrough happened sometime between July 10 and today, July 12. It was spotted by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument. And after months of satellite photos showing the crack grow larger, the final break wasn’t a surprise.

But this trillion ton iceberg, likely to be named A68, was already floating, so it won’t contribute to sea level rise. The larger concern is what comes next for the rest of Larsen C, which still has some 90 percent of its original size.

Will the ice shelf grow back, or will it collapse?

For 15 years, scientists have kept a close watch on Larsen C. This ice shelf – a floating patch of ice pushed from a land glacier – is the largest along the Antarctic Peninsula’s coast. The narrow and mountainous peninsula sticks out some 800 miles north from the continent toward Chile. And that location means the region has warmed at least twice as fast as Earth’s overall average.

Several ice shelves have already collapsed here. Larsen A, at the peninsula’s northern tip, crumbled in 1995. By 2002, its neighbor Larsen B collapsed. Both ice shelves were thousands of years old.

“It constantly blows my mind that these systems can go through that much change so quickly,” says University of Alaska, Fairbanks glaciologist Erin Pettit. “After maybe 100,000 years of ice being there, suddenly there’s no ice.”

But Larsen C is the biggest ice shelf on the peninsula and was the continent’s fourth largest before today. (It’s now the fifth largest). Scientists worry that after this iceberg drifts into the ocean, the shelf behind it might collapse. That’s similar to what happened at Larsen B, which will likely disintegrate completely by 2020.

Research back in 2015 indicated that when Larsen C lost this iceberg, which was still a growing rift back then, the remaining ice shelf would face a “significant risk to stability.”

“In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse – opinions in the scientific community are divided,” says Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, who was involved in the 2015 research and spearheads Project Midas, which monitored the break. “Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”

NASA JPL ice shelf scientist Ala Khazendar also cautions that Larsen C’s future remains uncertain. Ice shelves naturally shed icebergs, and this ice shelf could recover and avoid the fate of Larsens A and B.

If the floating Larsen C does collapse, it won’t raise sea levels directly. But once an ice shelf is gone, the glacier feeding it flows faster to the sea. And that will speed up sea level rise. Beyond that, scientists also worry what the collapse would mean for the rest of the continent as warming continues.

“If the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrates, bigger ice shelves with bigger drainage basins could also be in danger,” Khazendar says.


Scientists see warnings of the chaos to come at Earth’s poles. Discover‘s Eric Betz joined NASA aviators and researchers as they flew over Antarctica assessing the meltdown. Read his full account from the front lines of climate change. 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • OWilson

    “IF” it floats up into the warm ocean and causes the waters to cool, it “MIGHT” kick off Global Cooling! :)

  • James

    If you are showing actual evidence of the event of this ice shelf AFTER broken off…I missed it. All Im seeing is pre-calving in photos and fly bys with the usual dose of Nasa’s cgi. Some up to date evidence would be nice.

  • Tom Stockner

    In a perfect world this iceberg would sink the GOP’s Boaty McBoatface in under thirty seconds and no normal American would bat an eyelash.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Nice post SnowFlake ❄️

  • Hood Ratt

    Global Flooding

    • Smedley Butler

      Not even a drop in the bucket.

  • Scooter Biggs

    Oh noes! Look out Titanic!

  • BotoxBetty


  • Rwadeg

    Let us know when a California sized chunk of land slides off into the Pacific.

    • Accurite

      you will know when it happens. The rest of the country will be more buoyant.

      • jcblankjr

        “bouyant” as in “cheerful and optimistic”, correct?

        • Accurite

          Yes as well as not dragged down by the heavy yoke liberalism
          places on society’s citizens.

    • amitorelocato

      The will be a national holiday

    • okiejoe

      You will know when it happens. The rest of the country will be faced with a national depression and starvation.

      • Rwadeg

        Only if it’s occupants swim back to shore.

  • Bill Feger

    Sounds like a wonderful place to send Joe Biden former Delaware Senator.

  • Bill Feger

    Has anyone considered towing it to an area that has a water shortage, set up some major pumping stations etc.

    • Recoil Rob

      And just how do you propose that we tow this thing…the size of Delaware? Especially if you’d be trying to move it against any currents…good luck. All the tugs that could be put against it would have a very hard time doing anything to such a mass….and remember that 80% more is underwater that you can’t see. The thing is massive!

      • Bill Feger

        Hey we can put a dune buggy on Mars we should be able to float a iceberg to a given location. Use winds ,tides and currents to assist . Its an engineering challenge for sure. Unite the world’s navys in a cold water exercise.

  • Charles Reynolds

    Look squirrel. smh globul warming, joke, bad joke.

  • Proud Conservative

    OH My GAWD Whatever will we do?

    • Larry J

      Quick!! Buy an electric car before it’s too late to stop all these natural cycles and events!!

  • Aleric

    Happens all the time but lets make it seem like its relevant to push the Global Warming BS.

  • Stillontheroad

    An intensive scientific study of both Earth’s poles has found that from 2009 to 2016 overall temperature has dropped in the southern polar region.

    NASA’s Operation IceBridge is an airborne survey of polar ice and has finalised two overlapping research campaigns at both the poles.

    In the last few weeks NASA has revealed the overall amount of ice has increased at the Antarctic and the amount of sea ice has also extended.

    Well globolognaists – what say you?

    • redeemedconservative

      Up tick for globolognaists.

    • bartbeast

      We can expect the temperatures to get colder as a result of global warming. But all of this can be prevented by giving Al Gore 3 Trillion Dollars so he can breed unicorns. Their farts will offset the effects of greenhouse gases.

    • jcblankjr

      Damn, more inconvenient truths for Al and Leonardo to deal with

    • jcblankjr

      globolognaist – definition, please.

    • okiejoe

      Increased sea ice is a bad sign because it all originated as part of a continental glacier which has slid down to the ocean and is melting

  • ChrisLongski

    Mags like Discover, which needs mass appeal, don’t dare refute the GW doctrine.

  • Stone Wallz

    LoL…another article on mother EarF’s fever and how the globalwarmers can save her, if only Congress would give them trillion$.


    • BuyGuns

      Ah yes……..AL “the Climate Pimp” Gore.

  • Doug Day

    Who will deny climate?

    • (((chimera: #resist#persist)))

      Me! I will. There is no such thing as climate. Climate is a fiction; there’s no such thing as, e.g., “tropical,” “arid,” tundra,” “moderate.” There’s only what you see where you are.

      Also too, weather is a figment of your imagination. You only think it’s raining and that’s not lightening that just knocked that tree onto your roof. Act of God. No insurance payment for you!

      • OWilson

        And Hillary still ahead by 14, while Trump has no pat to………….(fill in the gap!)

  • OutfieldDan

    This is a false statement: “…that location means the region has warmed at least twice as fast as Earth’s overall average” They probably meant to say that because the peninsula sticks out 800 miles north, it’s temperature is twice as warm as Antarctica’s average temperature. Therefore glacial ice that sticks out that far north into a warmer environment is prone to melt and break off pieces.

  • caesar

    If only Trump would have stayed in the Paris climate Accord!

  • Smedley Butler

    Is it just me or have any of you noticed how hot it’s been lately? Global Warming???? hummmmmmmm

    • jamesjq

      Ah, summertime!

      • Smedley Butler

        Ahahha! So you admit there is “Climate Change”!

  • Pete O

    This prompts a deep philosophical question: If Delaware were to break off from the US and drift away, would anyone notice?

    • Rwadeg

      Delaware will never drift away because Maryland sucks.

  • Smedley Butler

    They have found fossils of crocodiles and hippos in the Sahara desert. Go figure….apparently that area becomes a bit of a sub-tropical climate about every 20,000 years. Damn Cavemen and their burning of fossil fuels no doubt caused the place to become desert! Then again it could have been all those dinosaur farts…..

    • Travvy

      You left out – WHALE BONES.

      I’m just pointin out.

    • BuyGuns

      Well…..when you had the earth covered entirely during Noah’s flood…..things tend to get dispersed. Easy explanation. Nothing more. Move on……..

      • Smedley Butler

        Uhmmmmm yeah….they have actually found a little more than things “dispersed”. But every culture in the world has a story about a great ancient flood.

        • bwana

          Every culture has had at least one flood. Not necessarily at the same time or in the same place. We had a “hundred year”flood in 2005 and 2013!

          • Smedley Butler

            I’m talking about something much greater referenced by other cultures. They all talk about world wide inundation.

          • okiejoe

            Of course they didn’t know about the existence of at least half of the world. Do the Inca or the Apache or the Cherokee have a world flood tradition? What about the Swahili?

          • bwana

            Totally agree!

          • bwana

            “world wide inundation” means a whole lot smaller region to a tribe in the Amazon jungle or someone living in village on the Nile! Their “world” is not what we consider to be the world today!

          • Smedley Butler

            My associate Sherman and I fired up the Wayback machine this morning and after traveling back in time have discovered the world wide flood to have been a fact. There…that settles it. I win.

          • bwana

            If that’s the case, where’s Noah’s Ark?

          • Smedley Butler

            Well, since it was made of wood it just didn’t last that long. It has long since been turned to mulch.

          • Robert Kolker

            People who don’t travel even one hundred miles from their birth place do not know anything about “world wide inundation”. A local big flood will seem like the entire world is underwater.

        • Robert Kolker

          While each culture might have -a- flood myth it is not clear that all the myths refer to the same flood.

          • OWilson

            They all had doomsday scenarios from which serious money could be made.

            Nothing’s changed!

            Lots of sheep, and lots of wolves to fleece them!

  • Reg Dunlop

    This was caused by the heat generated by Maxine Waters wig….

    • Roachster

      I just blew wine out of my nose. Ha!

  • CarpeDiem

    Millions of refugee’s are needing a new country and god has answered their prayers with a new piece of land. Climb on and sail it anywhere you want to go.

  • William Ripskull

    This proves it! Global warming is real.

  • Gregory

    So. why not push this iceberg to Australia, near the Great Barrier reef or somewhere that may need the water temperature to be lowered, or better yet, somewhere that needs fresh water!

    • Travvy

      Orrrrrrrrr, they can just ask Israel to give them their de-salinization technology.

  • Veritas_today

    As it is floating, as the name implies, the floating Larsen C, it has not effect on seal levels. Since float bodies displace their weight, as the floating ice melts the water that has already been displaced by the floating body would remain the same. Hence the next to last paragraph (the rest is BS). The glacier, which rests on land, moves very slowly and would add to the rise in ocean level, currently 2mm per year or 152 years to rise 1 foot. Oh my. And they call themselves scientists, they are useful idiots for those who want to enslave mankind, the ‘enlightened’ social architects.

    • nunyabizness71

      “And they call themselves scientists, they are useful idiots for those who want to enslave mankind, the ‘enlightened’ social architects.”
      They don’t care about that…they just want their grant money.

  • amitorelocato

    Everything is an assumption just like the theory of evolution who can’t never figure out.

  • sunnyvaleken

    Floating ice that melts does not raise sea level or the level of your favorite beverage with ice. There is at least one active undersea volcano that adds warm water to melt the ice so this is not evidence of AGW, it is evidence that the earth is doing what it has always done: change. But the AGW fear mongers don’t want to admit that inconvenient truth.

    • kenai

      The AGW fear mongers want to get rich(er) while selling their scam to gullible fools.

  • Matthew

    Way before we kill the planet with carbon we will kill ourselves off so who cares….

    • nunyabizness71

      I know!!! just google what cO2 does to plants! DOOM!

  • Travvy

    It’s called: AN EARTHQUAKE.

  • BuyGuns

    Global Warming….Pure BS. Follow the Money. That ALWAYS tells the story. Ask AL “the Climate Pimp” Gore.

    • bwana

      Global change, warming and cooling, is a fact (and has been occurring for millions of years); however, whether the current cycle is caused by humans is much debated. But blaming it on human demand for energy is a great ploy for governments to implement all sorts of tax grabs such as carbon taxes, swap and trade deals, and other B.S.!

  • BuyGuns

    Oh….and what they don’t tell you is the last few years as this shelf was naturally doing its thing…..the rest of Antarctica has been adding Ice at a record rate not seen before. Look it up. Media forgets to mention that little tid bit. Same old story. FOLLOW THE MONEY……

    • Sam

      They do mention it in the story though. One shelf last year was the 4th largest, now it’s the fifth largest. Which means one is growing and the other isn’t. But that doesn’t fit the narrative

  • wssams

    ALL HOGWASH & BS!!!!

  • Stoptherain!

    Crack in the ice and the Antarctic ice levels are at record highs..

  • BuyGuns


  • Alioth

    How much faster will this glacier move? A half inch per year instead of a quarter inch? XD I mean, when you’re moving at “glacial speeds,” faster is pretty relative.

  • Charles Wellman

    How does the larson ice shelf floating bouyantly on water resist the down slope flow of glaciers? What’s it pushing on?
    Do not the glaciers, flowing into the ocean form the iceshelf?
    I know the ocean freezes and acumulates snow but really that holds back glaciers?
    I think there is nothing else other than solid rock the diverts or holds back glaciers. So I think this is hype, or fear mongering.

    • Ray Franklin

      Mass, first of all. The shelf is in a bay, so the second effect is shear forces between the shelf edges and the ice covering adjacent land. This is a complex geological system, not just an ice cube floating in a bucket, so it has more forces than just buoyancy and pressure from the rest of the glacier.

  • jcblankjr

    California cow farts are a much greater threat to global climate stability, not to mention the fossil fuel combustion emissions from Al Gore’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s jets flying to and from climate warming conferences.

  • bwana

    At one point the Antarctic had tropical plants and cold blooded animals. This is simply the Earth coming out of its last ice age! When sea levels increase we will adapt or drown…

  • http://www.Rataway.com ricksuddes

    stop man from making more man, cut the world population to 3 billion and that is 2 billion too many.

  • jonathanpulliam

    They ought to split it into 4 chunks and use tugboats to push the chunks to Australia where they are aquifer-poor.


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