Antarctica Larsen C
An aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C seen in an image from the Digital Mapping System over the Antarctica Peninsula, Antarctica, on November 10, 2016. Reuters/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf is cracking, and once it gives way, it will set adrift one of the largest icebergs on record. Thus, all eyes are on the ice shelf as the deep crack continues to cut across its surface.

The gigantic iceberg is more than 6,000 square kilometres big. If detached, experts say it would drift off into the Weddell Sea, south of the tip of South America.

The crack has extended to more than 160 kilometres in recent months. There is only five kilometres of ice connecting the iceberg to the ice shelf. Scientists from the University of California and NASA stated that the parts that have already detached have begun moving seaward.

As the ice sheet was already afloat in the ocean, the detachment won’t affect global sea level. However, the detachment could hasten the destabilisation of the Antarctic ice shelf. Antarctic scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Helen Amana Fricker said there is no need to hit the panic button yet. According to Fricker, calving processes such as these are normal for healthy ice sheets. There are some who are attributing this break to climate change. That may not be the case.

“While it might not be caused by global warming, it’s at least a natural laboratory to study how breakups will occur at other ice shelves to improve the theoretical basis for our projections of future sea-level rise,” NASA’s Tom Wagner told The Washington Post.

Scientists said that the iceberg will be one of the most massive ever seen from Antarctica. It will roughly contain one trillion tonnes of ice and will be 600 metres thick. The analysis was done by University of Edinburgh scientist Noel Gourmelen and the European Space Agency. While most experts are disagreeing on climate change being the cause of this break, Antarctica has seen numerous ice breaks in recent years.

Recent studies suggested that the Larsen C ice started flowing more rapidly to the sea through the shelf, which has reportedly been thinning, its surface getting lower in water. This has led to the suspicion that it is melting from below. There is a raging debate in progress whether this break will destabilise the ice shelf and disintegrate further, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.