Giant iceberg breaks away from Antarctic ice shelf

A giant iceberg almost the size of Greater London has broken away from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

The split, which occurred near the UK’s Halley research station, was recorded between 7pm and 8pm yesterday.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) relocated the station 23km inland of what they called Chasm One in 2016 after it began to widen.

It said the calving happened a decade after scientists first detected the growth of vast cracks in the ice.

The new iceberg is estimated to be around 1,550 sq km in area and around 150 metres thick.

Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Image: Pics: Sebastian Gleich/BAS

BAS glaciologists said the calving was not linked to climate change and is part of the natural behaviour of the ice shelf.

They said the area of the ice shelf where the research station is located was unaffected by the split.

The Halley research station. Pic: BAS
Image: The Halley research station. Pic: BAS

Since 2017, staff have been deployed to the station in a limited capacity, only during the Antarctic summer, which runs between November and march.

There are currently 21 staff on the station working to maintain the power supplies and facilities in order to keep scientific experiments operating remotely through the winter.

They will continue to work until they are picked up early next month.

Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Chasm One. Pic: Sebastian Gleich/BAS
Image: Pics: Sebastian Gleich/BAS

Professor Dame Jane Francis, the director of BAS, said: “Our glaciologists and operations teams have been anticipating this event.

“Measurements of the ice shelf are carried out multiple times a day using an automated network of high-precision GPS instruments that surround the station.

“These measure how the ice shelf is deforming and moving, and are compared to satellite images from ESA, NASA and the German satellite TerraSAR-X. All data are sent back to Cambridge for analysis, so we know what is happening even in the Antarctic winter – when there are no staff on the station, it is dark for 24 hours and the temperature falls below minus 50C (or -58F).”

Chasm One in 2016. Pic: BAS
Chasm One in 2016. Pic: BAS
Image: Chasm One in 2016. Pics: BAS

Professor Dominic Hodgson, a BAS glaciologist, added: “This calving event has been expected and is part of the natural behaviour of the Brunt Ice Shelf.

“It is not linked to climate change. Our science and operational teams continue to monitor the ice shelf in real-time to ensure it is safe, and to maintain the delivery of the science we undertake at Halley.”

A graphic showing where the Brunt Ice Shelf is on Antarctica. Pic: British Antarctic Survey
Image: A graphic showing where the Brunt Ice Shelf is on Antarctica. Pic: British Antarctic Survey

It comes after another iceberg, known as A74, calved in February 2021. It has now drifted away from the Brunt Ice Shelf into the Weddell Sea.

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