Massive new iceberg forming -- right now -- in Antarctica
A new iceberg is forming in western Antarctica -- set to break off from the Pine Island Glacier -- and it's a big one. When the massive chunk of ice is finally fully separated from its even more massive parent chunk of ice, it will measure about 308 square miles, scientists say, about the same size as New York City.
The formation of an iceberg is called "calving," and while it's a semi-regular event -- and likely not related to global warming -- it's still pretty cool. After all, icebergs this big calve off only about once every 10 years.
So what would it be like to see an iceberg up close in the process of calving? In an interview with The Times, Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said it would be noisy and dramatic.
"When icebergs calve off, it's actually quite a loud noise," she said. "It would definitely be something you would hear — like a loud cracking sound — and visually it would be interesting too because there would be different pieces calving off at the same time and some of them would end up turning upside down and sideways."
She added that it would be fun to see only if one were watching a significant distance from the crack.
"If you were standing in the midst of it, you would be in a great deal of danger," she said.
The people at NASA are especially excited about this iceberg because they happened to catch it in the midst of its calving.
In mid-October, a team of scientists flew to the Pine Island Glacier as part of a project called Operation IceBridge, which NASA describes as "the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown." The scientists were planning to take regularly scheduled measurements of the ice shelf in western Antarctica, when they happened to notice a giant crack in the ice.
"A lot of times when you’re in science, you don’t get a chance to catch the big stories as they happen because you’re not there at the right place at the right time," John Sonntag, instrument team lead for Operation IceBridge, said in a statement. The operation is based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But this time we were."
The crack, which formed between the end of September and early October, is fairly dramatic. It's 18 miles long, with shoulders about 820 feet apart at the rift's widest. The crack is about 260 feet wide along most of its length.
In the video above, Sonntag explains that the process of an iceberg calving is a discrete event, and it takes place over just a few weeks. "We just happened to be here at the right window of time to capture it," he says.
-- Deborah Netburn