Vast iceberg poised to crack off Antarctica - scientists


 Reuters International

FILE PHOTO: A combination of aerial photographs taken in February and March 2002 of parts of the Larsen B shelf in the Antarctic show different aspects of the final stages of the collapse. The pictures show (clockwise from top L) the shelf breaking up near Foca Nunatak, a rift in the ice sheet near Cape Desengano, a cascade of water from melting ice nearly 30 meters high along the front of the shelf, and the new front edge of the shelf breaking up near Cape Foyn. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

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OSLO (Reuters) - A vast iceberg, expected to be one of the biggest ever recorded with an area almost the size of the U.S. state of Delaware or the Caribbean island state of Trinidad and Tobago, is poised to break off Antarctica.

A rift, slowly developing across the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula in recent years, expanded abruptly last month, growing by about 18 km (11 miles). It is now more than 80 km long with just 20 km left before it snaps, scientists said.

"The Larsen C Ice shelf in Antarctica is primed to shed an area of more than 5,000 square km (1,930 square miles) following further substantial rift growth," scientists at Project Midas at the University of Swansea in Wales said in a statement.

The iceberg "will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula" and could herald a wider break-up of the Larsen C ice shelf, the statement said.

Ice shelves are areas of ice floating on the sea, several hundred meters thick, at the end of glaciers. Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves around the frozen continent will allow glaciers inland to slide faster towards the sea as temperatures rise because of global warming, raising world sea levels.

Several ice shelves have cracked up around northern parts of Antarctica in recent years, including the Larsen B that disintegrated in 2002.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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