Sometime between Monday 10th July and Wednesday 12th July, a 2,239 square mile section of Larsen C ice sheet finally broke away. As the media put it, that’s about the size of the State of Delaware. The Larsen C ice sheet is located in the Weddell Sea near the tip of the West Antarctica peninsula. The resulting iceberg has been designated Larson A68. Some of the media claimed this calving was due to human-induced global warming and portends a scary future. (See LA Times, New York Times , and CNN stories. CNN headline: “That huge iceberg should freak you out” )
The LA Times story does note that in the year 2000, a 4,200 square mile chuck of ice calved from the Ross Sea ice shelf.
A scientist from Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf in West Antarctica, said that they were “not aware of any link to human-induced climate change…” (Source)
The geology of West Antarctica is discussed in a long post by geologist James Kamis (read full post).
As shown on Kamis’ figure 2 above, West Antarctica is within a major rift zone which is pulling the continent apart. There are also 61 recognized volcanos on the surface, on the sea bed, and under the ice, all of which provide heat and tectonic instability. Kamis contends that the geology is driving ice shelf calving.
Calving of giant ice bergs is not a new phenomenon. A 1956 newspaper story found by Tony Heller of RealScience.com documents two large icebergs. One, spotted by a Navy icebreaker was 208 miles long and 60 miles wide (12,480 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined). During the same year another iceberg measuring 200 miles long and 10 miles wide calved from the Ross Ice Shelf. The same story notes that the Navy Hydrographic Office reports a 100 mile by 100 mile iceberg (10,000 square miles) spotted by a whaling ship in 1927. (Source) Remember that good coverage of ice shelf calving is made possible by satellite observation which began in 1979. Before that, it was by chance observation from ships.