BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The state of Delaware bills itself as a small wonder, but its size looks anything but small when it’s in the form of an iceberg.
NASA has made the first photographs of an immense piece of ice that broke loose from Antarctica this summer available to the public.
In July, because it’s winter and dark in Antarctica, only NASA satellites could see a huge piece of Larsen ice sheet breaking loose. But with summer coming, “it’s a really special thing to see them in the summer sun,” says Dr. Chris Shuman, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
NASA is making daylight flights over the area, and what’s being seen looks more like an ice island than an iceberg.
The size of Delaware and 650 feet thick (though only 10 percent of it floats above the water), the berg that broke away from the ice sheet has barely moved in four months.
“This very large berg appears to be hung up on something on the sea floor,” Dr. Shuman says.
He is among the NASA scientists studying ice that breaks away. It’s a natural function that’s been going on for centuries, producing mostly smaller icebergs.
Giant bergs may be the result of a warming world, but by themselves they do not pose a threat.
“That floating ice is in the water in the Larsen sea, and now the berg off its front has already displaced all the water it’s going to displace, so it will not change the sea level itself,” Dr. Shuman says.
Even though this iceberg won’t raise sea level, when large ice sheet break away, it’s like losing a protective wall that hold back the glaciers behind it.
The effect is already happening in Greenland, where runoff from shrinking glaciers is not bottled up and spills into the ocean.
If it happens in Antarctica, “that is pretty clearly a sign of changes that will come and will contribute to sea level,” Dr. Shuman says.