Floating off the Antarctic coast, there’s a profoundly angular iceberg that has unwittingly become the object of internet intrigue.
Though scientists in Antarctica regularly spot these steep-walled “tabular” icebergs — many nearly square or rectangular — they certainly look like bizarre, unnatural forms in such a wild Earth environment.
Seen from space, this particular iceberg has a rich diversity of sharp-edged friends — and although it initially seemed perfectly rectangular, it’s not.
The black arrow points to the iceberg in question.
“If you look in detail you will even see that from the top is it not that perfectly rectangular as the photo seems to indicate,” Stef Lhermitte, a geoscientist specializing in remote sensing at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, said over email.
“It is definitely not that exceptional for tabular icebergs (as the one in the NASA image) to have very sharp corners,” added Lhermitte. “If you look at the recent icebergs that calved of iceberg A-68 (near Larsen C), you will see that many of them have pretty ‘rectangularish’ shapes.”
Scientists suspect that the now-famed angular iceberg recently snapped off from an ice shelf — which are the ends of glaciers that float over the ocean.
As NASA’s Operation IceBridge missions (which survey Antarctica from 1,500 above) recently observed, this iceberg was surrounded by other tabular slabs, freshly calved into the frigid sea.
It’s perfectly normal for such icebergs to calve into the sea. Things, however, are changing in Antarctica at an accelerating pace.
Simply put, many ice shelves, particularly in West Antarctica, are losing ice faster than they can be replenished.
This is of significant concern to climate scientists, as collapsing ice shelves — which fall apart when enough warm water and air weaken the structures — have real potential to unleash Antarctica’s great ice sheets into the sea, portending sea level rise in yards, not feet.