Q: What link, if any, is there to human-induced climate change?
SCAMBOS: There’s no doubt that the warming and melting and other changes in this region are a part of the global climate change story. But exactly how the changes in this area led to this iceberg is a bit of a puzzle. The new event is not all that unusual for an ice shelf generally, but this large of a berg, at this time, in this area — it’s suspicious.
Q: Will this event cause sea levels to rise significantly or even a little?
SCAMBOS: By itself, no, absolutely no. But if in the next few years the ice shelf and glaciers begin to flow a bit faster, we would see a small rise in the rate of sea level change. Overall, though, this place is more of an “Area 51” for glaciology — we get to see how warming plays out in an area of Antarctica that does not have huge consequences for us. If the same thing happened in some of the other regions, it would be a serious concern.
Q: As the new iceberg potentially drifts north to warmer waters and melts, do you think it could raise the sea levels of the area it’s in?
SCAMBOS: No, an iceberg has no impact on sea level — it has already displaced all the water that it represents. It’s floating, so it is already “stepped into the bathtub.” When this iceberg breaks apart, it could be a small hazard to navigation, but there’s not a lot of navigation in these areas.
John Sonntag / NASA
Q: If the collapse of other ice shelves are a precursor to what might befall Larsen C, is this event a canary in a coal mine situation for the Antarctic Peninsula?
SCAMBOS: For the Antarctic Peninsula, the canary died a while ago. This is more a case of showing us how big a change may have been initiated back in 1995 (when another ice shelf known as Larsen A collapsed).
Q: How often do these calving events occur and could we see more?
SCAMBOS: Calving of icebergs happens all the time from Antarctica. No big deal. This one is large, but not really even in the top 10 since the 1960s. It’s more important when the last parts of an ice shelf break away, when the fingernail breaks back too far and the glaciers really jump forward. We’ve seen that a few times, further north in the Larsen, but this area has a long way to go for that.