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Very few people ever get the chance to see Antarctica, the frozen seventh continent inhabited only by scientists and penguins. It's a shame this is the case, because some of the natural wonders found in the land of ice are quite beautiful to behold. For instance, during a recent 1,500-foot fly-over of the Antarctic surface, NASA scientists observed the strangest things: a massive, perfectly rectangular iceberg whose edges were so neat and uniform it could have been a giant, icy cut-out!



Icebergs such as these, known as "tabular" icebergs, aren't uncommon if you spend your days researching the Antarctic surface.

According to Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

"It's not uncommon to see that in Antarctica — although that [the tabular iceberg spotted by NASA] is a fresh and sharp looking one."

Brooke Medley, NASA's Operation IceBridge deputy project scientist, concurred with Dr. Scambos:

"The ice shelves that produce the icebergs are extremely flat and expansive, so we often see nearby tabular icebergs similar to the one seen in the photo."

Wilkins ice shelf break up British Antarctic Survey youtu.be

The formation process for these unnatural-looking tabular icebergs is actually fairly easy to understand. They are caused when "ice shelves," icebergs that are hanging off of Antarctic land, reach far enough out from support that they crack under their own weight, forming a clean split like the ones we see on the edges of the tabular icebergs.


The fact that the iceberg in NASA's photo has just recently split also contributes to its strange, foreign appearance.

According to Catherine Walker, a NASA scientist who researches Antarctic glaciers:

"That shape is not hugely surprising.It's relatively new and not rounded off by melting or anything like that — a new piece of broken glass is sharp."

Over the next several weeks, the influence of waves and light from the sun will melt down the tabular iceberg's sharp edges, but it's also important to remember that these giants are actually much larger than they seem in their pictures.

As Medley explains:

"The scale of icebergs is often hard to convey. While I wasn't on this flight, it's important to remember that several of these icebergs cannot fit in the full camera frame due to their immensity."

Twitter was fascinated by the strange-looking icebergs:








For those of us who never intend to freeze to death in an Antarctic wasteland, these pictures are a very useful peek into a strange, alien world. There's beauty to be found everywhere...even when there's nothing but ice.

H/T - Mashable, BBC

Gary Pratt/Flickr

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