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What's next for the massive ice chunk that broke off Antarctica?

Last month, a Delaware-sized iceberg broke off the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

The 2,240-square-mile ice shelf completely separated from Antarctica between July 10 and 12, causing widespread alarm around the world. While many took to social media to express concern about the separation of the Larsen C iceberg and the impacts of climate change, experts said that cracks in ice shelves are part of their natural cycle.

"The driving force for the crack is all about geometry and stresses in the ice," Heidi Sevestre, a glaciologist at University of St. Andrew's in Scotland, explained to AccuWeather in February.

While climate change may have played a role, it's normal for shelves to break off; what was most unusual for Larsen C was the speed at which the crack expanded. It first appeared in 2010 but really took off in speed in 2016.

NASA Larsen C photo 8.2.17

NASA satellite imagery shows A68, since it's broken off of Antarctica in July. (Photo/NASA Goddard/UMBC JCET, Christopher A. Shuman)


Although ice shelves calve regularly, it's important to keep ice shelves in place in order to keep the ice behind it from sliding into the ocean.

Ice shelves work as barriers from the ice on the mountains to the ocean, Sevestre explained. Once there is no longer something preventing the ice from the mountains flowing into the ocean, ice can flow right into the waves and add to sea-level rise.

For now, scientists are closely monitoring Larsen C. NASA recently released new satellite imagery of the ice shelf, which has multiple icebergs breaking off it. NASA says the main iceberg, A-68, already has several pieces breaking off it as it drifts northward. The Guardian reports European scientists have detected 11 icebergs in total.

Larsen C NASA 8.2.17

NASA satellite imagery shows Larsen C's evolution from February 2016 through July 2017. (Photo/NASA Goddard/UMBC JCET, Christopher A. Shuman)


Larsen C could potentially meet a similar fate to another ice shelf, Larsen B. Lakes and ponds formed on the surface of Larsen B in its final days due to warm winds from the mountains. The water sunk through the ice, and the ice shelf nearly completely disappeared in a matter of months. Scientists said prior to Larsen C's cleaving, they noticed a similar pattern.

While Larsen C's separation from Antarctica may not be directly related to climate change, it's still something to keep an eye on. As Rolling Stone pointed out, it's a sure sign at how quickly our world can change.