A massive iceberg is “hours, days, or weeks” away from separating from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf, scientists based in the United Kingdom said Wednesday.
“When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded," the scientists wrote. "This event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula."
The iceberg that forms from the predicted separation could end up being roughly the size of Delaware, making it one of the largest icebergs that scientists have ever observed. The event could trigger a collapse of the entire Larsen C ice shelf, a catastrophe that could raise worldwide sea levels by four inches, researchers estimate.
That outcome has the potential to harm the world’s economy. In March, the Guardian reported that trillions of dollars of coastal assets were at risk of flooding. Researchers in Germany estimate that economic losses double for every 4.3-inch (11 cm) increase in sea levels. (The silver lining? Insurance companies and risk analysts see a potential big business in selling flooding insurance to capitalize on potential deluges caused by melting ice caps.)
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The scientists behind the Larsen C prediction are part of an Antarctic research group called Project MIDAS that investigates how global climate change impacts the ice shelf.
"There is no evidence to link the growth of this rift, and the eventual calving, to climate change," USA Today notes—though it is widely accepted in the scientific community that warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures were a factor in earlier disintegrations of ice shelves (e.g. Larsen A in 1995, Larsen B in 2002) on the Antarctic Peninsula.