After over a year since it dramatically broke loose from the Antarctic ice cap, one of the largest icebergs on record has finally set to sea. In July 2017, iceberg A68 split off from the Larsen C ice shelf, but shallow waters to the north and unexpectedly heavy ice to the east kept it pinned in its original position. Now, thanks to strong southern spring winds, the multi-trillion tonne ice cube has split free and has pivoted out into the Weddell Gyre.
Despite the small army of scientists and support staff swarming over it, the Antarctic has the justifiable reputation as the loneliest spot on Earth. It's a small wonder, therefore that the sudden movement of a floating sheet of ice covering 6,000-km² (2,300-mi²) and 190-m (625-ft) thick wasn't seen directly by human eye, but was rather captured by ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, which is dedicated to all-weather land and sea monitoring of general conditions and emergency events.
On July 12, 2017, A68, which comprises 10 percent of the Larsen C shelf, made a dramatic split as a slowly growing crack 170-km (105-mi) long completed its journey. It was originally expected that the berg would soon float away and into the Antarctic sea. In fact, it was regarded as a major scientific opportunity that would allow researchers to study 5,818 km² (2,246 mi²) of newly-exposed seabed that had been hidden for over 120,000 years.
Unfortunately, local conditions that included badly deteriorating weather kept the ice in its original location, putting paid to any hopes of exploring expeditions. Now that A68 is drifting free, it is expected to head north into warmer waters, where it will melt and begin to break up.
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