Earlier this week a 70,000-hectare iceberg broke free of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier and floated adrift in the Southern Ocean. Depending on which direction the New York City-sized iceberg travels, scientists worry that it may pose a threat to busy international shipping lanes. To track the iceberg’s path, an $80,000 emergency research grant has been awarded to a group of UK scientists.

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NASA scientists foretold the iceberg’s formation in 2011 when they noticed an 18-mile crack spreading across the surface of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG). It wasn’t until July of this year, however, that the crack made it all the way across the New York City-sized iceberg. Due to freezing winter temperatures in Antarctica, however, the iceberg never left the region until just a few days ago. If the iceberg passes through The Drake Passage–a body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands–it could interfere with major international shipping lanes.

The longest and fastest-flowing glacier in the Antarctic, the Pine Island Glacier regularly calves large icebergs from the ice shelf to the sea every six to ten years. Though PIG is one of the most rapidly melting ice masses in the world, iceberg formation is a natural process and scientists cannot immediately attribute the iceberg’s creation to global warming. If significant rates of ice loss continue, however, there could be serious consequences for sea level rise.


Images via NASA