Spawning of Massive Antarctic Iceberg Captured by NASA



Washington, DC, United States

Between July 10 and 12, 2017, the Larsen C Ice Shelf in West Antarctica calved one of the largest icebergs in history (named "A-68"), weighing approximately one trillion tons. The rift in the ice shelf that spawned the iceberg has been present on the shelf since at least the beginning of the Landsat era (approximately the 1970s), but remained relatively dormant until around 2012, when it was observed actively moving through a suture zone in the ice shelf (Jansen et al., 2015). Suture zones are wide bands of ice that extend from glacier grounding lines (the boundary between a floating ice shelf and ice resting on bedrock) to the sea comprised of a frozen mixture of glacial ice and sea water, traditionally considered to be stabilizing features in ice shelves. When the Antarctic entered its annual dark period in late April, scientists knew the rift only had a few more miles to go before it completely calved the large iceberg. However, due to the lack of sunlight during the Antarctic winter, visible imagery is generally not available each year between May and August.

This frame is from an animation that shows the ice shelf as imaged by the NASA/NOAA satellite Suomi NPP, which features the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument. VIIRS has a day/night panchromatic band capable of collecting nighttime imagery of Earth with a spatial resolution of 2,460 feet (750 meters). An image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite shows the last cloud-free, daytime image of the ice shelf on April 6; the MODIS thermal imagery band is shown on April 29. The images from May 9 to July 14 show available cloud-free imagery from Suomi NPP. Luckily, despite several cloudy days leading up to the break, the weather mostly cleared on July 11, allowing scientists to see the newly formed iceberg on July 12.

The animation is available at https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21785

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  • Title: Spawning of Massive Antarctic Iceberg Captured by NASA
  • Creator: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NOAA/GSFC
  • Date Created: 2017-07-14
  • Rights: JPL
  • Album: kboggs