Larsen C — a sprawling sheet of ice in western Antarctica — is currently attached to its parent shelf by 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of ice, according to UK-based research team Project MIDAS.
Once it splits, the crack will produce an iceberg around 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) — approximately the size of the state of Delaware.
In August, researchers at MIDAS reported that a crack in Larsen C grew 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) in six months’ time. In December the rift accelerated — clocking an additional 18 kilometers (11 miles) of further movement through colder glacial ice within a month.
Although this isn’t the first time the Antarctic has seen icebergs produced in this way, Larsen C’s split will significantly change the landscape of the continent.
Martin O’Leary, a researcher at MIDAS, told CNN the huge iceberg could render the remaining sheet of ice unstable — causing sea levels to rise and to overall changes to the Antarctic’s landscape.
“I think in terms of the impact that the iceberg has on the ocean, it’s a very spectacular event but its not going to be a huge thing in itself — the iceberg is big but the oceans are a lot bigger,” O’Leary added.
In 2002, Larsen C’s neighboring ice shelf, Larsen B, violently broke off from its parent, shattering into millions of pieces — accelerating a mass of broken ice into the Antarctic current.
Before Larsen B collapsed, it demonstrated a pattern similar to Larsen C. In 1995, another ice shelf, Larsen A, also broke off from the same ice mass.
Since then, researchers at MIDAS have been tracking Larsen C with a close eye.
O’Leary said that Larsen A and B’s breaks were “unequivocally climate change-related,” but so far researchers aren’t linking global warming to Larsen C’s split.
The team says the break in Larsen C has likely been caused by natural geographic patterns marked in their research for decades.
“We don’t think there is a strong link to change climate change in terms of the provocation of the crack in question … but we couldn’t work that out,” O’Leary said.