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Scientist track formation of massive iceberg

Scientists are using satellites to determine details of one of the largest icebergs on record, which is taking shape at the edge of Antarctica.

Researchers from the University estimate that the iceberg, calving from the edge of the Larsen C ice shelf, will have an area of about 6000 square kilometres.

The iceberg will be about 190 metres thick on average, with a depth below sea level of up to 210 metres in places.

It is very large by Antarctic standards, and could pose a hazard to maritime traffic.

The iceberg will soon break up and be carried by ocean currents.

Scientists recommend that its path across the ocean should be monitored.

Space monitoring

Scientists are using data from two European Space Agency satellites to track the formation of the iceberg from a deep crack on the ice shelf.

The split, being tracked by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission, is calving an iceberg about 200 km long and 30 km wide, with only a 5 km sliver remaining attached to the ice shelf.

ESA’s CryoSat mission can reveal some of the future berg’s vital statistics. This Earth Explorer satellite uses radar to measure the height of the ice surface.

This information is routinely used to work out how the thickness of sea ice and land ice is changing and, consequently, how the volume of Earth’s ice is being affected by the climate.  

All eyes are on Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf as a deep crack continues to cut across the ice, leaving a huge chunk clinging on. When it eventually gives way, one of the largest icebergs on record will be set adrift. The Sentinel-1 and CryoSat missions will play an important role in tracking the berg and keeping an eye on how it changes as it drifts away from the ice shelf.

Dr Noel GourmelenSchool of GeoSciences