A NASA aircraft on a mission to map polar ice in Antarctica got one of the first up-close looks at the massive iceberg that broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf this past July.
The giant one trillion ton iceberg, known as A68, originally spanned an area of about 5,800 square km – roughly the same size as the U.S. state of Delaware.
It wasn’t until recently that scientists were able to see the iceberg in visible light due to the 24-hour darkness of Polar Night. Instead, they had to rely on thermal imagery and radar data to observe the break and movement of the ice.
Based on satellite observations, scientists estimate that the iceberg calved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12. It has since moved slowly away from the ice shelf after what NASA scientists described as a back-and-forth movement in July, which broke the main berg into two large pieces (named A-68A and A-68B).
NASA’s overflight of the area took place on October 29 and kicked off the annual mission to survey Antarctic sea and land ice, known as Operation IceBridge. For the first time in its nine years of operations, IceBridge will launch two consecutive, dedicated sets of Antarctic flights from two continents—South America and Antarctica—with two different aircraft and instrument suites.
The IceBridge team has also added new flight lines this year, including surveys of the Larsen C and Venable Ice shelves. In total, IceBridge scientists plan at least six P-3 flights and, depending on weather, up to eleven total flights.