Image: NASA/John Sonntag

One of the largest recorded icebergs in history has just broken off the Antarctic ice shelf Larsen C — weighing a trillion tons. 

Scientists have been tracking a massive rift in the ice shelf that has been growing over the past decade, with substantial advances in the past two years alone. The newly formed iceberg measures 5800 square kilometers, roughly the size of Delaware.

The event occurred between Monday and Wednesday, captured by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite tool. Larsen C is the third of three ice shelves to succumb to a large ice loss. Larsen A and Larsen B disintegrated completely after similar incidents in 1995 and then in 2002.

Researchers are concerned about long-term effects on Larsen C, one of the only remaining ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula. These ice shelves serve as protective barriers, keeping back glacial output that would otherwise spill out into the ocean, raising sea levels around the world.

Image: NASA/USGS Landsat

While the incident is not considered to be directly related to climate change, many researchers feel that the warming ocean temperatures are the primary underlying cause of the drastic increase in ice shelf disintegration over the past two decades.

The breakage of this iceberg has resulted in a 12% overall loss to the Larson C ice shelf, which calls for a redrawing of the entire Antarctic coastline. Scientists will now monitor this new iceberg’s movement, likely to be named A-68, and document if it begins to melt or fragment.

A glaciologist who has been studying Larsen C stated to NASA, “The Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the fastest warming places on the planet throughout the latter half of the 20th century. This warming has driven really profound environmental changes, including the collapse of Larsen A and B. But with the rift on Larsen C, we haven’t made a direct connection with the warming climate. Still, there are definitely mechanisms by which this rift could be linked to climate change, most notably through warmer ocean waters eating away at the base of the shelf.”