See Antarctica's enormous new iceberg from SPACE

See Antarctica's enormous new iceberg from SPACE

See Antarctica’s enormous new iceberg from SPACE: Satellite images show frozen block the size of Houston as it breaks away from the Brunt Ice Shelf

  • A 600 square-mile iceberg broke off Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf on Sunday
  • It split at a huge crack that has been growing through the ice shelf since 2012 
  • Orbiting satellites have captured incredible before and after images 

New satellite images provide a bird’s eye view of the massive iceberg that broke away from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica on Sunday night.

The frozen block has a thickness of 490 feet (150 metres) and an area of 600 square miles (1,550 km²) – almost the size of Greater London.

It broke off at a huge crack that bisected the ice shelf, known as Chasm-1, which had been growing by about 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) each year since 2012.

The incredible images were taken by a Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite, which orbits the poles in a mission managed by the European Space Agency (ESA).

New images show the massive iceberg that broke away from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica on Sunday night from space

The frozen block has a thickness of 490 feet (150 metres) and an area of 600 square miles (1,550 km²) – almost the size of Greater London. The left image was taken on the 20 January 2023, and the right on 24 January 2023

Glacier calving is a natural occurrence caused by the forward motion of a glacier making its end unstable.

During a calving event, part of the end of a glacier drops off, often forming an iceberg.

Calving of glaciers is often accompanied by a loud cracking or booming sound before blocks of ice up to 60 metres (200 ft) high break loose and crash into the water.

The entry of this ice into the water can cause large and hazardous waves.

GPS sensors began to pick up movement at Chasm-1 between 7pm and 8pm on Sunday, when it extended to roughly 40 miles (60 kilometres), across the entire shelf.

At the time, 21 staff with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) were working in the Halley Research Station just 12 miles (19 km) away.

Fortunately, all of them were completely safe, and had been preparing for this eventuality for some time.

In 2016, continuous growth of Chasm-1 prompted the BAS – the national polar research institute – to relocate their site 14 miles (23 kilometres) inland.

The Halley VI Research Station consists of eight units which each sit on skis so they can be easily manoeuvred away from the edge of the the ice shelf when needed.

It has been unoccupied during the last six winters because of the complex glaciological situation which makes the impact of calving events unpredictable.

However, staff are deployed there between November and March to maintain the facilities that allow them to monitor experiments remotely during the winter.

The glaciologists have since confirmed that the area of ice the station is situated on remains unaffected by the recent calving event, and there is no need for evacuation. 

Those currently on site are due to be collected by aircraft around 6 February.


At the time, 21 staff with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) were working in the Halley Research Station just 12 miles (19 km) away, as indicated by the red square. Fortunately, all of them were completely safe, and had been preparing for this eventuality for some time

The Halley VI Research Centre (pictured) is an internationally important platform for atmospheric and space weather observations in a climate-sensitive zone

PhD student Ben WAllis, who processed the new images, also said that the channel between the Brunt Ice Shelf and new berg is about (3 km) wide at its northern end (pictured)

Mr Wallis tweeted: ‘Before the calving Chasm 1 was filled with a melange of young ice formed from multiyear sea-ice and meteoric ice from compacted snow. This is now disintegrating while the large berg remains intact’

The satellite images of the new iceberg were processed by Ben Wallis, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, who also shared them on Twitter.

A colony of thousands of Emperor Penguins are known to live on the Dawson-Lambton glacier tongue, which sits immediately west of the Brunt Ice Shelf. 

Some of the penguins started life in the Halley Bay colony, which was largely killed off in 2016 when part of the ice shelf collapsed.

Therefore, concerns had been raised as to whether they had been disrupted by the recent calving event.

But Mr Wallis confirmed that the sea-ice they call home is still intact, and stains from their poop, or ‘guano’ can even be seen in the images.

He also said that, as of yesterday, the channel between the Brunt Ice Shelf and new berg is about (3 km) wide at its northern end. 

He tweeted: ‘Before the calving Chasm 1 was filled with a melange of young ice formed from multiyear sea-ice and meteoric ice from compacted snow. 

‘This is now disintegrating while the large berg remains intact.’

A colony of thousands of Emperor Penguins are known to live on the Dawson-Lambton glacier tongue, which sits immediately west of the Brunt Ice Shelf. Mr Wallis confirmed that the sea-ice they call home is still intact, and stains from their poop can even be seen in the images

GPS sensors began to pick up movement at Chasm-1 between 7pm and 8pm on Sunday, when it extended to roughly 40 miles (60 km) long – across the entire shelf

The iceberg broke off at a huge crack that bisected the ice shelf, known as Chasm-1 (pictured), which had been growing by about 2.5 miles (4 km) each year since 2012

The iceberg separated from the ice shelf due to a spring tide in what’s known as a ‘calving event’.

This is a completely natural process that happens regularly in the frozen continent, and is not linked in climate change. 

Professor Dominic Hodgson, BAS glaciologist, said: ‘This calving event has been expected and is part of the natural behaviour of the Brunt Ice Shelf.  

‘Our science and operational teams continue to monitor the ice shelf in real-time to ensure it is safe, and to maintain the delivery of the science we undertake at Halley’.

Calving is caused by the forward motion of a glacier making its end unstable so that part of it falls off, often forming an iceberg.

The process enables glaciers to balance out the accumulation of new snow and ice.

While this won’t be the largest iceberg to split off from Antarctica, it’s the biggest chunk the ice shelf has lost since observations began over 100 years ago in 1915. Pictured: Chasm-1

Chasm-1 (pictured) had lain dormant for the 25 years prior to 2012, when satellite monitoring revealed it was starting to move

The weekend’s ‘calving event’ was completely natural – not at all linked to climate change – and caused by a spring tide. Calving is a natural occurrence caused by the forward motion of a glacier making its end unstable

HOW DO SCIENTISTS MONITOR THE BRUNT ICE SHELF?

Scientists use a network of 16 GPS instruments to measure any deformation of the Brunt Ice Shelf, which causes cracks, which report updates every hour. 

These include the Sentinel 2 satellites from the European Space Agency, NASA Worldview satellites, US Landsat 8 and TerraSAR-X.

They also utilise on-site drone footage, as well as ground penetrating radar to image the subsurface 

The data has provided scientists with a number of ways to measure any cracks with high precision. 

They have also used computer models and bathymetric maps to predict how close the ice shelf was to calving. 

While this won’t be the largest iceberg to split off from Antarctica, it’s the biggest chunk the Brunt Ice Shelf has lost since observations began over 100 years ago in 1915.

Chasm-1 had lain dormant for at least 35 years prior to 2012, when satellite monitoring revealed it was starting to move. 

In 2015 and 2016, scientists used ice-penetrating radar technologies and satellite images to determine the path the fracture could take, and the speed it could grow.

By December, Chasm-1 was slicing across the majority of the ice shelf, marking the beginning of the calving event. 

The iceberg it has formed is predicted to drift into the Weddell Sea, but glaciologists will track its movement.

It will be named by the US National Ice Center, but it will likely carry the letter ‘A’ to signify it is in the Antarctic quadrant from 0° East to 90° West.

As the last major iceberg that calved from this quadrant was called ‘A80’, the latest one may be called ‘A81’. 

The loss of a section of an ice shelf can result in an acceleration of the flow of the remaining ice, which may put pressure on other features in the shelf.

One of the most notable of these is the ‘Halloween Crack’, that appeared in October 2016 and extends over 37 miles (60 km) to just a few miles from Chasm-1.

This protrudes from another important feature called the McDonald Ice Rumples, an elevation of the ice  as a result of an obstacle protruding from the sea floor.

This ordinarily helps to lock the Brunt Ice Shelf in place, but may be affected by a change in rate of ice flow. 

The Halley VI Research Centre sits on the Brunt Ice Shelf, that floats on the frozen continent and flows at a rate of about 1.5 miles per year

Staff are deployed at the station between November and March to maintain the facilities that allow them to monitor experiments remotely during the winter

This is the second major calving from the Brunt Ice Shelf in the last two years, with the first occurring in February 2021.

In November 2020, a major fracture – called the North Rift – began carving its way through the ice and continued to extend through the start of the new year.

This accumulated in a 490 square-mile (1,270 km²) iceberg, called A74, splitting off the vast floating ice shelf and drifting into the Weddell Sea.

The Brunt Ice Shelf is made from glacier ice that originally fell as snow on Antarctica and has flowed off the land and out to sea.

It flows at a rate of up to 1.2 miles (2 km) per year west towards the sea where, at irregular intervals, it calves off icebergs. 

In 2021, an iceberg with an area of almost 500 square miles grazed past the western Brunt Ice Shelf, but it did not split Chasm-1.

There was concern that if it had hit West Brunt harder, it would finally cause the block to break off from the main ice shelf and create the new iceberg.

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