New Delhi: An iceberg weighing more than a trillion tons–one of the biggest ever recorded and nearly four times the size of Delhi—has broken away from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.

It occurred sometime between Monday and Wednesday when a 5,800 square km section of Larsen C broke away. According to Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project, the breakaway was detected and confirmed by NASA’s satellites. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is the US space agency.

MIDAS explained that the iceberg was already floating before it calved away so had no immediate impact on the sea level. “The calving of this iceberg leaves the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12%, and the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula changed forever," it added.

It is said that the Antarctic ice sheet contains 90% of the ice on Earth and would raise sea levels worldwide by over 200 feet if it melts.

“We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometres of ice. We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg. In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse," said Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project.

“Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away," he added.

Luckman explained that “the iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict."

“It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters," he added.

Researchers from the MIDAS project have been monitoring the rift in Larsen C for many years, following the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the sudden break-up of the Larsen B shelf in 2002. Rapid advances of the rift were reported in January, May and June, which increased its length to over 200 km and left the iceberg hanging on by a thread of ice just 4.5 km (2.8 miles) wide.

The MIDAS researchers pointed out that although the remaining ice shelf will continue naturally to regrow, there is a risk that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour, Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event in 1995.

The researchers also refused to link the incident to climate change.

“Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position. This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable," said Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at UK-based Swansea University and member of the MIDAS project team.

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