A huge chunk of ice larger than the state of Rhode Island has broken an Antarctic ice shelf, according to the European Space Agency. The floating mass covers more than 1,600 square miles, making it the world’s largest iceberg, agency officials said.
The iceberg, nicknamed A-76, calved from the Ronne Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. On May 13, the European Space Agency’s twin Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites spotted the giant patch of ice.
The United States National Ice Center – which is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Navy, and Coast Guard – confirmed the calving event the next day and recorded the A-76’s position in the Weddell Sea.
“Iceberg A-76 calves on the western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea and is currently the largest iceberg in the world,” the organization tweeted Friday.
The finger-shaped iceberg is about 105 miles long and 15 miles wide, according to the European Space Agency. Its total area is more than 70 times that of Manhattan, New York.
It’s not uncommon for an ice shelf to break loose, and calving events naturally occur as these sprawling frozen platforms move forward and contract. In recent decades, however, scientists have said that climate change is causing worrying changes throughout the Antarctic region. Global warming can, for example, accelerate the retreat of an ice shelf and cause it to collapse, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
The European Space Agency said the biggest iceberg title was previously held by a piece of ice called the A-23A. This iceberg, which covers an area of just under 1,500 square miles, is also currently afloat in the Weddell Sea.
Although the A-76 is huge, it is still almost three times the size of the largest iceberg in recorded history. This designation belongs to an iceberg named B-15 that calved off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica 21 years ago. The B-15 iceberg covered more than 4,200 square miles when it broke off, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory.
Icebergs get their names based on where and when they were first sighted. Antarctica is divided into quadrants, with the letters A, B, C and D used to denote the different regions. A sequential number is then assigned to each newly identified iceberg. As such, the A-76 was spotted in the Bellingshausen / Weddell Sea quadrant and was the 76th iceberg followed by the US National Ice Center.
An iceberg that forms from another previously named iceberg then receives a sequential letter at the end of its name.