Story at a glance

  • The calving happened just days before Antarctica hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Scientists said the collapse lasted for minutes and stretched half a mile across the glacier front.
  • The William Glacier has receded almost a mile in 20 years.

A large block of ice more than 40 yards high and weighing thousands of tons broke off a glacier and collapsed into the sea off Antarctica last month, less than a week the continent marked its hottest temperature on record. 

A crew of scientists on board a survey ship tracking the impact of climate change witnessed the dramatic moment the ice mass broke off the William Glacier and toppled into the water on Jan. 30.

The collapse lasted for several minutes and stretched half a mile across the glacier front, according to scientists on board the ship who witnessed the collapse. 

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“The whole world started moving. It was hard to take in just how much was going on at the same time,” chief officer of the ship Simon Wallace told Sky News

“The front of the glacier just broke. It was like a sandcastle in the face of the sea. There was a distinct shift to the right and then it seemed to disappear,” he said. 

Sky News reports the William Glacier has retreated almost a mile in 20 years. 

The incident occurred just days before Antarctica hit its warmest temperature in recorded history. 

Argentina’s Esperanza Base on the continent’s Trinity Peninsula recorded a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 6. The temperature surpassed the previous record of 63.5 degrees set in March of 2015. 

Less than a week later, an iceberg about twice the size of Washington, D.C., more than 130 square miles, broke off the Pine Island Glacier. The glacier is considered to be one of the fastest-shrinking in Antarctica. 

Antarctica’s peninsula, the area pointing toward South America, is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. In just the past 50 years, temperatures have increased 5 degrees on the continent, and around 87 percent of glaciers along the peninsula’s west coast have receded during that time.

Published on Feb 13, 2020