Another iceberg broke off Antarctica over the weekend, just two months after one of the largest ever recorded calved into the ocean.
So, should we be worried? Yes and no. While iceberg formation is a natural process — thousands break off each year — the warming waters in Antarctica are cause for concern.
Here are some answers to burning questions about icebergs.
How did the iceberg that broke off last weekend compare to the massive one earlier this summer?
At 71.5 square miles, the Pine Island Glacier iceberg is about three times the size of Manhattan Island. But it's only about 5% of the size of the massive iceberg, named A68, that calved from Larsen C Ice Shelf in July. That one was about the size of Delaware, said Adrian Luckman, a scientist with Project Midas, a British Antarctic research group.
How common are icebergs like the one that broke off this weekend?
Smaller icebergs like the Pine Island Glacier one are quite common, but it is big enough to be given its own name — B44. Between 10,000 to 15,000 icebergs are calved each year worldwide, most of them on the small side, according to Canadian Geographic.
What does this say about climate change?
It's usually difficult to pinpoint climate change as the culprit for icebergs. However, the most recent iceberg is a part of an ongoing retreat of the glacier resulting from warmer ocean waters eroding the base of the floating ice tongue, Luckman said. Following a long period of stability, the Pine Island Glacier calved quite large chunks in 2001, 2007, 2013 and 2015.
What is an iceberg anyway?
Icebergs are large pieces of ice that float in an ocean or lake, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Icebergs come in all shapes and sizes, from ice-cube-sized chunks to ice islands the size of a small country. The term "iceberg" refers to chunks of ice larger than 16 feet across.
Aren't icebergs also a natural, normal process?
Yes. Calving is an entirely natural process wherever ice flowing on the land meets the ocean or large lakes.
What other iceberg or ice shelf collapses can be tied to climate change?
The Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the fastest warming places on the planet throughout the latter half of the 20th century, according to NASA. Scientists believe this warming was a factor in the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves in 1995 and 2002, respectively.
How common are larger icebergs like the one this summer?
Fairly uncommon. The one that sheared off this past summer was one of the largest on record. The largest ever recorded was the iceberg B-15 that calved off Antarctica in 2000. That one was about as big as the island of Jamaica.
What will happen to Antarctica if the world keeps warming?
Warm waters are likely to continue their push into the region, eating away at Larsen C and other ice shelves around Antarctica from below, according to Climate Central.
Do icebergs contribute to sea-level rise?
Most icebergs come from ice shelves, which are already floating. So when a part of an ice shelf detaches — such as an iceberg — no extra water is displaced. However, ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean, according to NASA. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise.
How big does an iceberg need to be to get its own name?
To be classified as a named iceberg, the height of the ice must be greater than 16 feet above sea level, the thickness must be 98-164 feet, and the ice must cover an area of at least 5,382 square feet, according to the U.S. National Ice Center, the organization that names and tracks all Antarctic icebergs. Iceberg names are derived from the Antarctic quadrant in which they were originally sighted.
Where are most of the world's icebergs?
The North Atlantic and the cold waters surrounding Antarctica.
How do icebergs form, and where do they go?
Icebergs form when chunks of ice calve, or break off, from glaciers, ice shelves, or a larger iceberg, the data center said. Icebergs travel with ocean currents, sometimes smashing up against the shore or getting caught in shallow waters.
Why are icebergs important?
Icebergs pose a danger to ships traversing the North Atlantic and the waters around Antarctica. After the Titanic sank near Newfoundland in 1912, the United States and 12 other countries formed the International Ice Patrol to warn ships of icebergs in the North Atlantic, the snow and ice data center said.