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The strange rectangular iceberg spotted by NASA in the Antarctic was ‘born’ far earlier that thought, new satellite footage has revealed.

The rectangular iceberg was thought to be freshly calved from Larsen C, which in July 2017 released the massive A68 iceberg, a chunk of ice about the size of the state of Delaware.

‘The berg was so clean-cut that it was reasonable to assume it might have very recently calved from the Larsen C ice shelf,’ NASA said.

However, new satellite images reveal it ‘has a far more interesting history that thought’ and had actually been floating around the sea for four months before it was spotted. 

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The image below, tweeted November 9, 2018, by Stef Lhermitte of Delft University of Technology, shows the small, newly calved icebergs. The rectangle iceberg—which was about 4 kilometers long at the time appears just north of a curved berg.

WHAT IS A TABULAR ICEBERG? 

Tabular icebergs split off the edges of ice shelves in the same way a fingernail that grows too long ends up cracking off. 

This is why they have sharp edges.

The sharp-angled iceberg that made headlines in late October 2018 had a longer, rougher journey than was initially thought.

The iceberg was spotted on October 16, 2018, during a flight for Operation IceBridge -NASA’s long-running aerial survey of polar ice. 

During that day’s survey of glaciers and ice shelves along the northern Antarctic Peninsula, scientist Jeremy Harbeck spotted the compelling berg.

Not only were the edges of the iceberg extremely straight, but the two corners appeared ‘squared off’ at right angles.  

Scientists used images from Landsat 8 and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 to trace the berg back to its origins. 

The original 'monolith'rectangular berg was spotted near the Larsen C ice shelf, and NASA experts believe it the sharp edges are evidence it may have recently broken off the shelf

The original ‘monolith’rectangular berg was spotted near the Larsen C ice shelf, and NASA experts believe it the sharp edges are evidence it may have recently broken off the shelf

They found that it actually calved from the ice shelf’s new front in early November 2017, just a few months after A-68 broke away.   

The rectangle berg then began a northward journey, navigating the newly open water between the Larsen C ice shelf and Iceberg A-68. 

Collision threats were everywhere: A-68 could smash into the little bergs at any time, and smaller bergs could collide with each other.

THE RECTANGULAR BERG’S INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

It calved from the ice shelf’s new front in early November 2017, just a few months after A-68 broke away.   

The rectangle berg then began a northward journey, navigating the newly open water between the Larsen C ice shelf and Iceberg A-68. 

Collision threats were everywhere: A-68 could smash into the little bergs at any time, and smaller bergs could collide with each other.

The berg cruised all the way north and through a narrow passage between the A-68’s northern tip and a rocky outcrop near the ice shelf known as Bawden Ice Rise. NASA/UMBC glaciologist Chris Shuman likens this zone to a nutcracker. 

An area of geometric ice rubble is visible in the Landsat 8 image  from October 14, 2018, two days before the IceBridge flight. A-68 has repeatedly smashed against the rise and caused pieces of ice to splinter into clean-cut geometric shapes. The once-long rectangle berg did not make it through unscathed; it broke into smaller bits. The iceberg in Harbeck¿s photograph, circled in the annotated Landsat 8 satellite image, appears closer to the shape of a trapezoid. The trapezoidal berg is about 900 meters wide and 1500 meters long, which is tiny compared to the Delaware-sized A-68.

An area of geometric ice rubble is visible in the Landsat 8 image from October 14, 2018, two days before the IceBridge flight. A-68 has repeatedly smashed against the rise and caused pieces of ice to splinter into clean-cut geometric shapes. The once-long rectangle berg did not make it through unscathed; it broke into smaller bits. The iceberg in Harbeck’s photograph, circled in the annotated Landsat 8 satellite image, appears closer to the shape of a trapezoid. The trapezoidal berg is about 900 meters wide and 1500 meters long, which is tiny compared to the Delaware-sized A-68.

A-68 has repeatedly smashed against the rise and caused pieces of ice to splinter into clean-cut geometric shapes. 

An area of geometric ice rubble is visible in the Landsat 8 image from October 14, 2018, two days before the IceBridge flight.

The once-long rectangle berg did not make it through unscathed; it broke into smaller bits. 

The iceberg in Harbeck’s photograph, circled in the annotated Landsat 8 satellite image, appears closer to the shape of a trapezoid. 

The trapezoidal berg is about 900 meters wide and 1500 meters long, which is tiny compared to the Delaware-sized A-68.

By November 2018 the iceberg had moved out of the rubble zone and into open water. 

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The berg cruised all the way north and through a narrow passage between the A-68’s northern tip and a rocky outcrop near the ice shelf known as Bawden Ice Rise. NASA/UMBC glaciologist Chris Shuman likens this zone to a nutcracker. 

A-68 has repeatedly smashed against the rise and caused pieces of ice to splinter into clean-cut geometric shapes. 

An area of geometric ice rubble is visible in the Landsat 8 image from October 14, 2018, two days before the IceBridge flight.

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The once-long rectangle berg did not make it through unscathed; it broke into smaller bits. 

The iceberg in Harbeck’s photograph, circled in the annotated Landsat 8 satellite image, appears closer to the shape of a trapezoid. 

The trapezoidal berg is about 900 meters wide and 1500 meters long, which is tiny compared to the Delaware-sized A-68.

By November 2018 the iceberg had moved out of the rubble zone and into open water. 

Shuman said: ‘Now it’s just another iceberg on its way to die.’

A second rectangular berg, known as a ‘tabular’ iceberg, was spotted off the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, near the Larsen C ice shelf and close to the first one.

It is part of a large ‘field of bergs NASA experts may have recently broken off the shelf, and say the sharp angles and flat surfaces are evidence the break occurred very recently. 

Just past the original rectangular iceberg, which is visible from behind the outboard engine, IceBridge saw another relatively rectangular berg and the A68 iceberg in the distance.

Just past the original rectangular iceberg, which is visible from behind the outboard engine, IceBridge saw another relatively rectangular berg and the A68 iceberg in the distance.

The image was taken during an IceBridge flight an airborne survey of the planet’s polar ice that gives a 3D view of the ice that makes up the Arctic and Antarctic, providing vital information on how it changes over time.

‘I thought it was pretty interesting; I often see icebergs with relatively straight edges, but I’ve not really seen one before with two corners at such right angles like this one had,’ said IceBridge senior support scientist Jeremy Harbeck. 

The rectangular iceberg appeared to be freshly calved from Larsen C, which in July 2017 released the massive A68 iceberg, a chunk of ice about the size of the state of Delaware.

In a different photo (above), Harbeck captured both the edge of the now-famous iceberg, and a slightly less rectangular iceberg. That image also captures A68 in the distance.

‘I was actually more interested in capturing the A68 iceberg that we were about to fly over, but I thought this rectangular iceberg was visually interesting and fairly photogenic, so on a lark, I just took a couple photos,’ Harbeck said.

The flight originated from Punta Arenas, Chile, as part of a five-week-long IceBridge deployment, which began Oct. 10 and is scheduled to conclude Nov. 18.

The scheme is NASA’s longest-running aerial survey of polar ice.

During the survey, designed to assess changes in the ice height of several glaciers draining into the Larsen A, B and C embayments, IceBridge senior support scientist Jeremy Harbeck spotted a very sharp-angled, tabular iceberg floating among sea ice just off of the Larsen C ice shelf. 

The strange, angular berg is known as a tabular iceberg.

The flight saw a 'field' of large tabular icebergs located between Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf and the A-68 ice island, which calved off of the Larsen C last year, as seen on a NASA Operation IceBridge mission

The flight saw a ‘field’ of large tabular icebergs located between Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf and the A-68 ice island, which calved off of the Larsen C last year, as seen on a NASA Operation IceBridge mission

This panorama of the entire first tabular iceberg was edited together from two images taken while flying past the berg

This panorama of the entire first tabular iceberg was edited together from two images taken while flying past the berg

‘A tabular iceberg can be seen on the right, floating among sea ice just off of the Larsen C ice shelf,’ the space agency said.

‘The iceberg’s sharp angles and flat surface indicate that it probably recently calved from the ice shelf.’

Section of a Landsat 8 image of the "square" iceberg area, with an arrow identifying the iceberg in question.

Section of a Landsat 8 image of the ‘square’ iceberg area, with an arrow identifying the iceberg in question.

In an interview with LiveScience, NASA scientist Kelly Brunt said ‘tabular icebergs are rather like fingernails that crack of, giving them sharp edges.

‘What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square,’ she said.

She estimated its size to be about a mile wide.

Scientists have been closely tracking Larsen C since a  massive iceberg broke free, and began to spin. 

The 'pizzaberg': This berg resembles a slice of pizza. The Triangular iceberg surrounded by many different types of sea ice, off the Larsen ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. In the open water, grease ice is forming.

The ‘pizzaberg’: This berg resembles a slice of pizza. The Triangular iceberg surrounded by many different types of sea ice, off the Larsen ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. In the open water, grease ice is forming.

From yesterday's #IceBridge flight: Mountains in the Shackleton Range, bordering Recovery Glacier, East Antarctica.

From yesterday’s #IceBridge flight: Mountains in the Shackleton Range, bordering Recovery Glacier, East Antarctica.

From Friday¿s #IceBridge flight: A lead (fracture within the sea ice) that is partially refrozen and also continuing to freeze over. New, very thin grease ice is forming.

From Friday’s #IceBridge flight: A lead (fracture within the sea ice) that is partially refrozen and also continuing to freeze over. New, very thin grease ice is forming.

Experts had previously said the giant area, estimated to be about the size of Delaware, was locked into place, saying it ‘likely got stuck on the sea bed’ 

‘But now A68 has started to swing northwards,’ said Polar oceanographer Mark Brandon recently, who spotted the movement using temperature data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite. 

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‘You can see at between 7-12 July 2018 the weather conditions and ocean currents conspire to swing the trillion tonnes of the giant iceberg A68 in an anticlockwise direction,’ he said.

‘My guess is that A68a will continue rotating as it is now around that western point, until what is currently the northern edge collides with the Larsen C ice front.

‘It has a spectacular amount of momentum and it’s not going to stopped easily. I should think we will see some interesting collisions with the ice shelf in the next few months.’

It is believed a ‘temperature anomaly’ on 20 July 2018, when it was almost 20 °C warmer than the mean over the Weddell Sea and Larsen Ice shelf, may have triggered the rotation beginning.

Glaciologist and former Project MIDAS collaborator Martin O’Leary told Earther a collision is ‘certainly possible’ he doubts it would have much of an effect on either the iceberg or shelf given the slow-motion speed at which it would occur.

Eventually, O’Leary says the prevailing ocean currents will push the iceberg northwards and eastwards into the Southern Ocean ‘where it will probably break up and melt.’

Left, a ‘temperature anomaly’ on  20 July 2018, when it was almost 20 °C warmer than the mean over the Weddell Sea and Larsen Ice shelf  Right: Sentinel-1 SAR satellite imagery from 29 August 2018 shows that to the north of the iceberg the wind is pushing the sea ice northwards faster than the iceberg is rotating. Iceberg A68 captured from with the Sentinel-1 SAR sensor 29 August 2018 23:58 UTC, showing an area of open water where there is intense sea ice generation happening right now.

last year it was revealed dense ice cover had so far prevented it from drifting far out to sea.

An animation showing its movement over the last few months reveals how the trillion-plus ton Iceberg A-68 has shifted as it’s battered by ocean currents, tides, and winds in the Weddell Sea.

While the huge chunk of ice, estimated to be about the size of Delaware, has moved around some, the experts say its surroundings have kept it somewhat locked into place. 

An animation showing its movement over the last few months reveals how the trillion-plus ton Iceberg A-68 has shifted as it’s battered by ocean currents, tides, and winds in the Weddell Sea

Iceberg A-68 is the sixth largest iceberg on record since scientists began keeping track, and its separation from the ice shelf sparked fears about its future impacts on global sea levels.

Despite all the activity in the Weddell Sea, ‘its northern end has repeatedly been grounded in shallower water near Bawden Ice Rise,’ according to Project Midas researchers, who have been monitoring the iceberg over the last year.

‘These groundings led eventually to further pieces of the iceberg being shattered off in May 2018.

‘Whilst not quite large enough to be given labels themselves, the total area of icebergs lost from A-68 in May was the size of a small city.’

Scientists tracking a massive iceberg that broke free from Antarctica¿s Larsen C Ice Shelf last year say dense sea-ice cover has so far prevented it from drifting far out to sea. It is shown above in July, 2018

Scientists tracking a massive iceberg that broke free from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf last year say dense sea-ice cover has so far prevented it from drifting far out to sea. It is shown above in July, 2018

While the huge chunk of ice, estimated to be about the size of Delaware, has moved around some, the experts say its surroundings have kept it somewhat locked into place. Its position back in November, 2017 is shown

While the huge chunk of ice, estimated to be about the size of Delaware, has moved around some, the experts say its surroundings have kept it somewhat locked into place. Its position back in November, 2017 is shown

Earlier this year, scientists released the first-ever footage of ‘A-68’, a trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware that has broken off from Antarctica.

Stunning aerial clips capture the huge crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf that led to the third largest iceberg ever recorded breaking off from the continent last July.

When A-68 separated from Larsen C, it revealed an ocean hidden under the ice shelf for 120,000 years, and a team of scientists are now studying the region to uncover some of the hidden ecosystem’s mysteries. 

Led by the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the group will study tiny animals, microbes and plankton on the seafloor to see how they cope with severe changes to their environment.

As part of preliminary research for the trip, the team have taken aerial footage of the iceberg to monitor how far it has drifted to sea – the very first video captured of the berg since it calved from Larsen C last year.

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Marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse, the BAS researcher leading the mission, said: ‘The calving of A-68 provides us with a unique opportunity study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change.

‘It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise.

‘We’ve put together a team with a wide range of scientific skills so that we can collect as much information as possible in a short time. It’s very exciting.’

The scientists are travelling by ship to collect samples from the newly exposed seabed, which covers an area of around 2,250 square miles (5,800 square kilometres).

WHAT IS THE A-68 ICEBERG AND WHAT CAUSED IT TO BREAK AWAY FROM ANTARCTICA?

In July 2017, a huge crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf caused a trillion ton iceberg – the third biggest ever recorded – to break off from the icy southern continent.

The huge chunk of ice, dubbed iceberg A-68, measures 5,800 square kilometres (2,240 square miles), making it around the size of Delaware, or four times the area covered by Greater London.

Since A-68 broke away, it has remained unclear what will happen to the giant mass, with fears it could break up into pieces too small to track on satellite, and drift into shipping lanes.

Stunning new satellite images have revealed the movement of the massive iceberg that calved from the Larsen C ice shelf in July. The detailed images captured by instruments aboard NASA’s Landsat 8 show the widening gap between the main shelf and the ice berg, with a thin layer of loose, floating ice in between

In July 2017, a huge crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf caused a trillion ton iceberg – the third biggest ever recorded – to break off from the icy southern continent. These detailed images were captured by instruments aboard Nasa’s Landsat 8 satellite

Experts have found that cracks are still growing on Larsen C, and if they continue to grow, it’s possible that the ice shelf could collapse.

If all of Larsen C collapses, the ice it holds back might add another 4 inches (10 cm) to global sea levels over the years.

Many scientists argue that a calving event was not necessarily due to climate change.

Instead, it may simply reflect the natural growth and decay cycle of an ice shelf.

The team says their mission is urgent because the ecosystem that’s likely hidden beneath the ice for thousands of years may change as sunlight starts to alter the surface layers of the sea. 

The team will investigate the area previously under the ice shelf by collecting seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water samples using a range of equipment including video cameras and a special sledge pulled along the seafloor to collect tiny animals.

They will also record any marine mammals and birds that might have moved into the area. Their findings will provide a picture of what life under the ice shelf was like so changes to the ecosystem can be tracked.

A-68 is 620 feet (190 meters) thick from top to bottom, with just 100 feet (30 meters) of it is visible above the ocean. 

The iceberg was formed by a single crack along Larsen C, its parent ice shelf, and makes up a little over 10 per cent of the shelf.

BAS researchers flew around the iceberg to get a better view of it as it drifts into the Weddell sea.

This newly exposed marine area is the first to benefit from an international agreement made in 2016 by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The edge of A-68, the iceberg the calved from the Larsen C ice shelf. Nasa took this image in November during a flight that was part of its IceBridge program, which will help researchers understand the bedrock under the ice

The edge of A-68, the iceberg the calved from the Larsen C ice shelf. Nasa took this image in November during a flight that was part of its IceBridge program, which will help researchers understand the bedrock under the ice

This agreement designates Special Areas for Scientific Study in newly exposed marine areas following the collapse or retreat of ice shelves across the Antarctic Peninsula region.

The agreement came following a European Union proposal to CCAMLR, led by BAS scientists.

Professor David Vaughan, Science Director at BAS, said: ‘The calving of A-68 offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research programme in this climate sensitive region.

‘Now is the time to address fundamental questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change.

‘We need to be bold on this one. Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be.’ 



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