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Antarctica’s about to give the world one of its biggest ever icebergs

Ships sailing near northern Antarctica may soon have to navigate around one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The organisation issued an update on a bulky chunk of ice it’s monitoring from space, a chunk that could easily be the size of a small country once it breaks free.

Once the 200km-long crack travels its final five kilometres, the iceberg will be released into the Southern Ocean from the Larsen C shelf, off the continent’s jutting northern peninsula. After it sets sail, the berg will be between 190m and 210m deep, carrying around 1155 cubic kilometres of ice with it on an adventure around the Southern Ocean.

Oh, and it’ll also be more than 1100-times the size of Cape Town’s Robben Island. It’ll actually be around 2.5-times the size of Cape Town’s entire metropolitan area, or a third of the size of Gauteng.

While icebergs calving from the continent isn’t unusual, notes the ESA, the size of this particular berg could pose a problem for maritime traffic.

“It could, in fact, even calve in pieces or break up shortly after,” explains Anna Hogg from the University of Leeds.

“Whole or in pieces, ocean currents could drag it north, even as far as the Falkland Islands. If so it could pose a hazard for ships in Drake Passage.”

The ESA is currently monitoring the Antarctica iceberg’s birth using its Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar pair and its CryoSat ice-monitoring satellite.