Iceberg More Than 5 Times the Size of Manhattan Breaks Away From Antarctica

The rapidly melting Pine Island Glacier is dumping 45 billion tons of water into the sea annually. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

If Antarctica is sending us a message, it's not being subtle about it. Satellite images confirm another mass has split from Antarctica.

This time, it's an iceberg roughly 115 square miles from the front side of Pine Island Glacier. And it isn't the first time a mass this large has splintered off from the glacier. In 2017, an iceberg slightly smaller at 100 square miles also broke off.

“What is mostly remarkable about this event is that the frequency of calving seems to increase,” Delft University of Technology remote sensing expert Stef Lhermitte told Gizmodo.

While the latest iceberg to slough off into the ocean is only a fraction of the size of its predecessor, A68, there’s every sign that more will follow from the Pine Island Glacier.

Considered the fastest-melting region in the South Pole, the glacier is pushing 45 billion tons of water into the sea every year, a pace that has only sped up over the last 40 years, according to Nature Climate Change.

That means we can expect more cracks, and likely, more calving. While icebergs won’t measure up to A68, which was one of the biggest breaks on record, castaways from Pine Island Glacier may make up for that in sheer frequency.

This is the third time an iceberg has parted ways from the glacier in the last two years.

The problem is cumulative

"It isn’t the size of the bergs that are the main issue," Christopher A. Shuman, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, tells Gizmodo. "It is the overall progressive retreat of the ice front with calving losses in 2013, 2015, and 2017, which is pretty rapid retreat for any very large glacier, especially one this far south in Antarctica.

"With the first big loss in 2001, this is not a good sign for sure."

While the Larsen C iceberg, in all of its 2,300-square-mile glory, is still lumbering in the Southern Ocean, the latest iceberg is expected to break into smaller pieces quickly.

But its message is clear: Antarctica is undergoing profound change — and that doesn't bode well for the rest of us, as sea levels rise at an accelerated pace.

As Shuman explains to Gizmodo, glacial rifts are forming farther inland, as temperate waters flow against the base.

At the current melting rate, the entire Pine Glacier Island — which is currently anchored well below sea level — could be cast adrift within the next century.

With 68,000 square miles of ice at stake, that message would be impossible for us to ignore.