A massive iceberg A-68a has been slowly approaching South Atlantic island. The iceberg has the potential of causing major harm to wildlife if it becomes stationed near the island.
According to scientists, the iceberg is about the size of Delaware. It broke from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica in July 2017. Since then it has travelled thousands of kilometres and currently lies about 120 kilometres from South Georgia island.
With a surface area of 5,800 square kilometres, it is one of the largest documented icebergs. While the largest being B-15 measuring about 11,000 square kilometres. The breaking of A-68a has reduced the size of Larsen C shelf by twelve percent.
A-68a is almost similar in size and shape to Jamaica, around as long as Puerto Rico. In fact it is so big that pilots from United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force were not able to image it in one single photograph.
As per scientists, usually these icebergs break apart in the open ocean due to all the wave action and turbulence. But this is not the case with A-68a and within days it could collide with the island.
Although, the island’s environment is inhospitable with no permanent human settlement (except for few scientific research bases), but the island is teeming with wildlife, including penguins and seals.
If the iceberg somehow gets stationed at the island, it is expected to remain there for up to ten years before the ice melts or breaks away.
This could shut off some of the island’s two million penguins from reaching the waters to get food for their young ones. The melting freshwater could also harm the Phytoplankton (microscopic marine algae) and other sea creatures that are vital for food chain.
While the effects of climate change directly/indirectly disrupting the Larsen C is currently debated, but Antarctica remains one the fastest warming places on planet Earth. Past three decades, temperatures at South Pole has risen at three times the rate of the global average.
The timing of berg’s collision is a matter of much concern because it is matching with the birth of penguin chicks, as these penguin chicks are about to hatch near the December end.
Scientists estimate that death of this year’s chick could reduce the island’s penguin population by ten percent as the chicks won’t be around to reach their breeding age.
On the other hand, seals may perform better against this collision, as they nurse their young ones on milk they produce, and they can also go longer than penguins without making trips to feed.
However, the exact extent of damage due to collision remains uncertain. As of now iceberg is being closely watched as it moves towards South Georgia.
With inputs from:
Marco Hernandez and Cassandra Garrison from graphics.reuters.com
The Antarctic Iceberg Tracking Database, Brigham Young University — NASA.
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN).
British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
GLIMS Glacier Database, Colorado University.
Suomi-VIIRS satellite imagery, NASA.
United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD).