If you’ve seen the movie “Titanic,” you know that icebergs are not ice cubes. Apparently, Netflix isn’t available in Antarctica because a plane operated by NASA to scan the ice photographed a berg that looks more like a tombstone or a sheet cake or a frozen Christmas present … in other words, it’s nothing like a chunk of the Larsen C ice shelf it broke off of. Is it real or are the scientists stationed in Antarctica killing time with picks, chainsaws and tape measures?
“What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square.”
In an interview with LiveScience, Kelly Brunt, an ice scientist with NASA and at the University of Maryland, described the block of ice spotted by a plane belonging to NASA’s Operation IceBridge fleet – a project whose purpose is to measure annual changes in the thickness of Antarctica’s ice and glaciers in order to predict future break-offs and meltings caused by climate change. The planes give a closer and quicker look at these occurrences than the IceSat satellites. Should we be worried that the ice is suddenly breaking off in such neat and precise rectangular cuboid bergs?
“We get two types of icebergs: We get the type that everyone can envision in their head that sank the Titanic, and they look like prisms or triangles at the surface and you know they have a crazy subsurface. And then you have what are called ‘tabular icebergs.'”
Despite the predictable Internet panic when NASA posted photos on its NASA ICE #IceBridge Twitter feed, Kelly assures the masses that this mass is rare but normal. For the non-scientists (much appreciated, Kelly), she likens the cuboid iceberg calving process to a long fingernail that cracks off with a clean, straight edge on at least three sides. Also like a fingernail, the tabular iceberg is much wider than it is thick. This one is a mile across and, while it probably looks like a fun place for Antarctic scientists to blow off frozen steam playing mobile hockey, she warns that it’s unstable and moving away from the Larsen C ice shelf into the Weddell Sea.
That explanation sounds believable despite the dubious comments on various websites that it’s was actually caused by aliens, secret experiments or bored scientists. Whatever the case, let’s hope funding continues for cryospheric (ice-related) research projects like NASA ICE and Operation IceBridge. It may not be disaster movie-worthy but it’s critical to predicting how many of us will be underwater in a few years.