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Iceberg 'A68a' Which Split from Antarctica is Breaking Further. This is Bad News For Us

Location of A68-A iceberg on 2020-12-08, as seen by Sentinel-1 radar satellite. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

Location of A68-A iceberg on 2020-12-08, as seen by Sentinel-1 radar satellite. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The US National Ice Center is responsible for naming icebergs. The organisation names the iceberg according to the Antarctic quadrant in which they are found.

With rising temperatures and warming of ocean waters, glaciers are melting at a faster rate. One such giant iceberg that separated from Antarctica in July 2017 is A68a. The size of A68a is nearly 5,800 square km and it split from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017. Since it separated from Antarctica three years ago, the iceberg is drifting towards the Atlantic ocean.

As it travelled from Antarctica to warmer ocean temperatures, A68a started calving. Last week, scientists from the US National Ice Center (USNIC) discovered two new pieces calved from this giant iceberg, A68e and A68f. According to their press release, the separated icebergs were spotted on December 22 with the help of images from the Sentinel-1A satellite.

The US National Ice Center is responsible for naming icebergs. The organisation names the iceberg according to the Antarctic quadrant in which they are found. There are now four separate iceberg pieces including A68d, of the original A68a, which will eventually drift away from one another. The biggest section of the iceberg is A68a which covers an area of roughly 2,600 sq. km.

Earlier this year, the icebergs were headed towards South Georgia, an island which is a part of British Overseas Territory (BOT). Scientists fear that if the iceberg stops moving and grounds itself near the island, it could disrupt the local wildlife that depends on the ocean.

According to ecologists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), if the iceberg grounds itself near the island, it could mean that animals like penguins and seals will have to travel farther in search of food. This could also lead to their deaths if they don't make it back in time while their offsprings are starving.

BAS will be launching a research mission to study A68a’s impact on the ecosystem in January 2021.

However, not all is gloomy as Professor Geraint Tarling, an ecologist at British Antarctic Survey, also mentioned some of the positive impacts of such drifting of icebergs. Professor Tarling said that the iceberg is also beneficial in some ways if it remains in the open ocean as it carries large quantities of dust. This, in turn, is useful in fertilizing the ocean plankton in the water. These planktons draw in carbon from the atmosphere, partially offsetting human CO2 emissions.

While, BAS remote-sensing and mapping specialist Dr Peter Fretwell predicts that the iceberg might move northwards. In his statement, Fretwell said that the ocean currents will most probably take it on a strange loop around the south end of South Georgia, before spinning it along the edge of the shelf and back off to the northwest. However, he did mention that predicting the iceberg's path is not that easy.


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