Tuesday - July 25th, 2017

Just how big is this new, trillion ton Antarctic iceberg, anyway?


The iceberg that broke off from Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf between July 10 and July 12 is gargantuan. At about 2,200 square miles in area, and ranking as one of the largest icebergs ever observed, it's difficult to imagine just how big it really is. 

Here are some size comparisons that may help you put it into context. 

The area of the iceberg is about equal to the state of Delaware, or four Londons, and the volume of ice contained in the iceberg is about 277 cubic miles. This means that, if melted down, the iceberg contains enough water to fill 462 million Olympic size swimming pools. 

The depth of the iceberg extends down to between 600 and 700 feet below the surface of the sea. This is equivalent to putting two Statues of Liberty in the water, stacked on top of one another.

The iceberg itself weighs more than 1 trillion metric tons. If you picture that as an enormous heap of coffee beans, it'd weigh roughly 104 times more than all the coffee produced in the world during the 2016-2017 harvest.

According to Climate Central, a scientific research and journalism group, if stretched across the entire U.S., the iceberg "would coat all 50 states in a layer of ice 4.6 inches deep." 

In an email, the group reported that if envisioned as a sphere, the iceberg would stretch 8 miles high, "literally edging into the stratosphere."

From one end to the next, the iceberg measures 99.4 miles long, or equal to the length of more than 58 Golden Gate bridges.

Adrian Luckman, the lead scientist investigating the Larsen C Ice Shelf who is based at Swansea University in the U.K., sent his own comparison to the Eiffel Tower. 

The iceberg itself won't add to sea level rise, since it has already been floating in the water like an ice cube in a glass. But it may have significant consequences down the road by weakening the overall ice shelf and limiting its ability to hold back inland glaciers whose runoff does contribute to sea level rise. 

The Larsen C Ice Shelf is located in the Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth. While scientists have hesitated to pin this particular iceberg calving event to global warming specifically, the trends across parts of Antarctica, as well as the Arctic, are clear. 

Ice shelves are retreating and weakening as sea and air temperatures climb, and mountain glaciers are speeding their path to the sea faster than predicted just several years ago. The result will be more significant and rapid sea level rise that will threaten the viability of coastal megacities, from Miami to Mumbai. 

Frequent, large calving events at the neighboring Larsen B Ice Shelf presaged that shelf's disintegration in 2002. However, Luckman cautioned that the ultimate fate of Larsen C is unclear, even with the loss of this huge chunk of ice.

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