PARIS: A huge ice block has broken off from western Anta­rctica into the Weddell Sea, bec­oming the largest iceberg in the world and earning the name A-76.

It is the latest in a series of large ice blocks to dislodge in a region acutely vulnerable to climate change, although scientists said in this case it appeared to be part of a natural polar cycle.

Slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca, A-76 had been monitored by scientists since May 13 when it began to separate from the Ronne Ice Shelf, according to the US National Ice Center. The iceberg, measuring around 170 kilometres (105 miles) long and 25 kilometres wide, with an area of 4,320 square kilometres is now floating in the Weddell Sea.

It joins previous world’s largest title holder A-23A — approximately 3,880 sq km in size — which has remained in the same area since 1986.

A-76 was originally spotted by the British Antarctic Survey and the calving — the term used when an iceberg breaks off — was confirmed using images from the Copernicus satellite, the European Space Agency said. It may be a giant, but A-76 is by no means the largest iceberg in recent years.

The monstrous A-68 iceberg calved in 2017 from the Larsen ice shelf, which has warmed faster than any other part of Earth’s southernmost continent.

At 5,800 km2, 350 meters thick and weighing a trillion tons A-68 was one of the largest icebergs ever seen.

Last year the berg, by then known as A-68a after a piece snapped off, appeared to be on a collision course with a remote South Atlantic island home to thousands of penguins and seals, threatening to impede their ability to gather food. But it broke apart before it could cause any damage to the abundant wildlife in the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia.

Anne Braakmann-Folgm­a­nn, a researcher in iceberg motion at the School of Earth and Envir­onment at Leeds University, said it was likely A-76 would follow the trajectory of A-68 towards South Georgia.

“How long this will take and how much the iceberg will fragment before reaching the island, as well as the exact trajectory are hard to predict, though,” she said. Icebergs form when hunks of ice break off from ice shelves or glaciers and begin to float in open water.

Their formation is part of a natural process, although one which can be accelerated by warming air and ocean temperatures due to human-caused climate change.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2021

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