The Massive Iceberg That's Thisclose to Breaking Off of Antarctica

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Last year, scientists with NASA's Operation IceBridge discovered an 18-mile schism forming on Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier. They now say that rift could break soon, launching a massive iceberg into the Amundsen Sea. "We could witness the birth of an iceberg with our own eyes," IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger told OurAmazingPlanet's Becky Oskin.

IceBridge researchers have been keeping tabs on the fissure since October 14, 2011. While flying over Antarctica in a DC-8 research plane, they discovered cracks in the Pine Island Glacier's floating ice shelf. The scientists calculate that the impending iceberg could be as large as 350 square miles. The animation below shows the rift's progression. Note how slowly the crack grows at first, and then how it begins opening wider when a second crack formed this May:

NASA/German Aerospace Center

Other giant icebergs have spawned from Pine Island Glacier, most recently in 2001 and 2007. But the IceBridge mission—an attempt to monitor changes in polar ice from the air—only dates back to 2009, making this the first time NASA has used airplanes to capture aerial views of massive iceberg formation. This NASA video allows viewers to see what the rift might look like from the ground, piloting us through the polar ice canyon like Luke Skywalker maneuvering his way through the Death Star's trenches: 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.