A giant slab of ice has calved from the frozen edge of Antarctica into the Weddell Sea, becoming the largest iceberg afloat in the world, according to the European Space Agency.
The iceberg, dubbed A-76, is about 4,320km square (1,668 sq miles) and is slightly larger than the Spanish island of Mallorca, ESA said in a statement on Wednesday.
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It is 175km (106 miles) long and 25km (15 miles) wide.
The world’s second-largest iceberg is also located in the Weddell Sea – the A-23A, which is approximately 3,880km square (1,305sq miles).
Scientists spotted the A-76 in recent satellite images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission.
ESA said the iceberg had broken away from the western side of Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf, which is near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Ronne is one of the largest floating ice sheets that connect to the continent’s landmass and extend out into surrounding seas.
Periodic calving of large chunks of those shelves is part of a natural cycle, said Ted Scambos, a research glaciologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the breaking off of A-76 is not linked to climate change.
In an email to the Reuters news agency, Scambos said that the Ronne and another vast ice shelf, the Ross, have “behaved in a stable, quasi-periodic fashion” over the past century or more.
Because the ice was already floating in the sea before dislodging from the coast, its break-away does not raise ocean levels, he said in an email.
Some ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula, farther from the South Pole, have undergone rapid disintegration in recent years, a phenomenon scientists believe may be related to global warming, according to the US National Snow & Ice Data Center.