The Earth’s southernmost continent is almost entirely covered by ice almost 2 km thick. This week, one of the largest icebergs on record split from Antarctica. But experts say it could just be part of a natural cycle.
Antarctica’s dazzling white mass of ice makes it one of the most stunning and unusual places on the planet.
But it could also be one of the world’s most fragile and changeable landscapes, as this week’s huge iceberg breakaway has shown.
Breakaways of icebergs in the Antarctic are part of a natural cycle, so scientists have not linked the rift to manmade climate change. But the ice is a part of the Antarctic peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.
While the new iceberg, called Larsen C, will have little to no immediate impact on the region or its biodiversity, scientists are worried about the long-term effects. They will be monitoring Larsen C to see if it follows the natural cycle and grows again - or melts further and eventually collapses.
Antarctica is home to penguins, blue whales and fur seals – which were once so heavily hunted they were thought to have become extinct. But the seals have made a healthy comeback over the last century. Antarctic penguins don’t live in the region of the recent ice berg break, and will not be affected.
The Earth’s coldest continent also conceals hundred of subglacial lakes, hidden deep below the surface ice. They are formed by water that melts from the underside of the ice sheet due to heat from deep within the earth – a process that happens at a rate of just a few millimeters per year.
Hundreds of scientists from around the world are based in Antarctica to research the continent’s unique ecosystem. In such an extreme climate, with its dramatic landscape, there are many secrets to discover.
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