HomeScience & TechAntarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf Calves Massive Iceberg A-83, Signals Ongoing Environmental Shift

Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf Calves Massive Iceberg A-83, Signals Ongoing Environmental Shift

On May 20th, 2024, Antarctica witnessed yet another significant iceberg calving event as a massive iceberg measuring 380 square kilometers (approximately 147 square miles) broke off from the Brunt Ice Shelf. This event, designated A-83 by the U.S. National Ice Center, marks the third major iceberg calving in the region within the past four years.

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The separation of iceberg A-83 was captured by two Earth Observation satellites: the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 and NASA’s Landsat 8 satellites. These satellites provided radar imaging and thermal data, respectively, allowing scientists to monitor the effects of climate change on remote regions like Antarctica.

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Routine monitoring of ice shelves by satellites enables scientists to track changes in ice dynamics and structural integrity in response to increasing atmospheric and ocean temperatures. This calving event, like its predecessors, was attributed to the weakening of the ice at the McDonald Ice Rumples and the extension of the ‘Halloween Crack’ into the ice shelf.

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, which relies on radar imaging, operates year-round, providing images even during the Antarctic Night when there is no sunlight for six months. On the other hand, missions like Landsat 8 utilize thermal imaging to characterize ice sheet thickness, with warmer temperatures indicating thinner ice closer to open water.

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Fortunately, the calving of iceberg A-83 does not pose a threat to the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research Station. The station, located on the Brunt Ice Shelf, was relocated to the Caird coast in 2017 due to concerns about the stability of the outer ice shelf.

However, the ongoing loss of Antarctic ice serves as a stark reminder of rising global temperatures and their impacts on sea levels, coastal flooding, and extreme weather events. Monitoring polar ice sheets is crucial for informing adaptation and mitigation strategies, as emphasized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

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