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World’s Largest Iceberg Might Crash Into South Georgia

by Madonna Watts D'Souza

World’s Largest Iceberg Might Crash Into South Georgia

December 29, 2020

The world’s most gigantic iceberg, A68a, is predicted to have a grim collision with the island of South Georgia, which is home to a fragile and thriving ecosystem.

Do you remember the miserable ending of the RMS Titanic? A wonderfully crafted ship with tales told about its majesty had to meet with an abrupt end due to which accident? If you said a collision with an iceberg, then yes, you are right! However, we may get to see history repeat itself, but this time, its biodiversity in danger.

Iceberg Drifting Towards Collision

The world’s most enormous iceberg named A68a has broken off from the Antarctic ice shelves. It is headed directly towards a dangerous collision with an island that will threaten biodiversity, i.e., The sub-antarctic island of South Georgia, which is a British Overseas territory. Several scientists have been worrying that this collision will hamper the habitat and food of several Macaroni, King, Chinstrap, and Gentoo penguins and seals inhabiting the island. The island also is home to the albatrosses, which are the largest flying birds. The South Georgian Pipit is endemic to this region and is an important place for breeding the Atlantic krill.

The iceberg, shaped like a hand with the pointer finger extended in 2017, had broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf. It has a measurement of 4,850 km, which makes it the world’s largest iceberg to date.

Although the size has shrunken a bit, it still poses a threat to the island. However, it’s not a deep iceberg, with its depth measured to be 200 meters. This means the iceberg will most likely stop dangerously close to the island’s seafloor, making it difficult for the wildlife to procure food for their young, especially the seals and penguins, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The seal pups and penguin nestlings would be left to die if the iceberg halts at the seafloor. It would also lead to several creatures residing on the seafloor to get mangled by the iceberg. Geraint Tarling from the BAS expressed: “Global numbers of penguins and seals would drop by a large margin.”

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In observation for weeks as the massive iceberg, last measured at 4,200 sq km, rode a fast-track current towards South Georgia island. Photograph: Cpl Phil Dye RAF/Ministry of Defence/EPA

Global numbers of penguins and seals would drop by a large margin.

- Geraint Tarling, British Antarctic Survey

Iceberg's Identification

Satellite images released from NASA shows the iceberg traveling directly to the island. As of now, it’s at a distance of less than 400 km. “The iceberg was measured using satellite altimetry shortly after calving at 200 meters thick. This measurement has not been repeated recently, so that the current thickness will be a bit thinner. This is due to some melting in the last three years,” according to a spokesperson from the BAS. It is projected that the iceberg will reach the island within 20-30 days.

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A view from space of iceberg A-68A near South Georgia Island, Atlantic Ocean. File/ Reuters

A Bright Side

Not all is bad, according to Tarling, “Over hundreds of years, this iceberg has accumulated a lot of nutrients and dust, and they are starting to leach out and fertilize the oceans,” he said. This means that the nutrients released by the iceberg will be consumed by planktons, which are also one of the biggest consumers of Carbon Dioxide. Many researchers suspect that the reason for the breakage is caused by a phenomenon known as Hydrofracture.

Hydrofracture is also known as fracking, is a natural phenomenon in which water seeps through cracks of rocks or ice, thus resulting in the high pressure of the water, which ends up breaking the rock or ice. Ice calving or glacier calving is a natural process in which chunks of ice break off from ice shelves and float in the ocean waters. However, climate change has accelerated ice calving as more pieces have been breaking off since 1995. “The quantity of ice going from the center of the Antarctic continent out towards the edges is increasing in speed,” said Tarling. The BAS has requested more satellite images from the European Space Agency (ESA) to observe the progression of the A68a.

The Crash is a Possibility

Scientists claim that the iceberg won’t necessarily crash into the island. “We put the odds of collision at 50/50,” said Andrew Fleming from the BAS. There is also a possibility that the iceberg will keep floating North and miss the island. “The iceberg will very quickly get into warmer waters, and wave action especially will start killing it off,” explained Fleming if the iceberg did float northwards.

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A contour map shows the seafloor in the region where A-68a split and turned. (Image credit: British Antarctic Survey/ESA)

Whether the iceberg will spell doom for the island or end its own story by melting in warmer waters, it is crucial to note the effects of climate change globally. Climate change effects will be most prevalent in nations with rich and fragile biodiversities. As the temperature of the earth increases, so will the melting and cracking of ice. This will result in several glacier calvings.

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