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How NASA found this crazy viral iceberg



Today's viral tabular iceberg
Photo: Jeremy Harbeck / NASA

The Antarctic has literally settled down recently. First, there was news of a haunting hum that came from one of his ice shelves. Then came the weird rectangular iceberg.

It's enough to make you think that aliens inhabit the Seventh Continent. But no, it's just our Freak Show Planet doing its thing. And people seem to have enjoyed the latest spectacle, including the scientist who took in the viral images of the leaf-shaped floating ice breaker.

"Everyone from cousin-in-laws to parents to a friend across Europe has seen [messaged that they’ve]," Jeremy Harbeck, the NASA scientist who snapped the pictures, told Earther.

Harbeck is an elderly scientist with NASA Operation IceBridge, a mission that flies instrument-laden aircraft to document the condition of the ice at both poles. He told Earther that he had been on 62 IceBridge flights ̵

1; most of them over the Arctic sea ice – so "I think I've seen a lot."

But the Tafeleisberg was a first for him, especially as most of his works are in the Arctic. There are plenty of sea ice, but very few icebergs that tend to break down floating glaciers and ice shelves, which are shorter in the high Arctic than in the Antarctic.

On the fateful day last week he took the tabular iceberg, he looked out the window of the DC-8, that NASA flies after a morning in the valleys of the Antarctic Peninsula . The plane had moved to where the Larsen C ice shelf meets the sea, and Harbeck hoped to glimpse the Delaware-sized mountain that was broken off the shelf last July.

Harbeck said the shelf is also known to flex so that icebergs calve with sharp angles and faces, but the one it captures is a particularly impressive example. Even if he did not know it was meant for viral fame, he knew it was worth shooting a few photos. "[It] was not a big one, not a small one, but the fact that it had a square end caught my eye," he said. "It was pretty photogenic."

The images are the public part of a much larger mission to understand what happens to the planet's overheated ice. Harbeck operates a camera on board the aircraft that can be used to calibrate high-sensitivity LIDAR laser mapping devices that can accurately measure elevation changes in the ice. This data is then used for ground truth and quality control of the data coming from NASA's recently launched ICESat-2 satellites.

The satellite provides a 310-mile view of ice at both poles and will help monitor the area and thickness of ice. The measurements are critical to improving climate models and understanding how fast the oceans can rise as climate change melts ice on land. It's a big deal, and scientists are so hype about Harbeck's work and the satellites as the Internet has been about the Freakberg.


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