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“Extremely fortunate”: Researchers in Antarctica study the largest iceberg on Earth, which is three times the size of New York City.


Researchers in Antarctica had the fortunate opportunity to examine the largest iceberg in the world, which is approximately three times bigger than New York City. The iceberg broke off from the frigid continent nearly four decades ago.

The huge iceberg, known as A23a, was once attached to an ice shelf in West Antarctica, south of Chile, but separated in 1986. Since then, the iceberg has been stranded in the Weddell Sea, stuck to the ocean floor.

However, the British Antarctic Survey utilized satellite images to verify that the iceberg was no longer immobilized and was moving towards an area known as “iceberg alley” on its way to South Georgia, a sub-Antarctic island.

The RSS David Attenborough passes by the A23a iceberg.

Scientists from Britain aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough, a research ship designed for breaking through ice, have recently observed the iceberg in person and shared aerial footage captured by a drone for global viewing. The iceberg covers an area of approximately 4,000 sq km (1,500 square miles), making it over twice the size of Greater London and nearly twice as large as the Australian Capital Territory.

While heading south, the research vessel encountered A23a and continued on its journey to study the impact of Antarctic ecosystems on the carbon and nutrient cycles of the ocean.

According to Dr. Andrew Meijers, the leading researcher on the vessel, it was fortunate that the iceberg’s path out of the Weddell Sea aligned with our intended course and that we had the appropriate team on board to capitalize on this chance.

An aerial image of the A23a, which ‘stretches as far as the eye can see’.

Fortunately, our science mission’s tight schedule has not been affected by our navigation of A23a. It is truly incredible to witness this enormous iceberg in person, as it extends as far as the eye can see. Meijers, who is the leader for polar oceans science in our survey, shared these sentiments.

Biogeochemist Laura Taylor was a member of the group of researchers who collected seawater samples near the iceberg. The study aims to utilize these samples to ascertain the impact of the iceberg on carbon levels in the water.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough in front of A23a iceberg in Antarctica.

According to Taylor, it is known that huge icebergs can supply vital nutrients to the surrounding waters, resulting in flourishing ecosystems in typically unproductive regions. However, the impact of specific icebergs, their size, and where they come from on this process is still uncertain.

The head of the team for ecosystems science, Professor Geraint Tarling, stated that the breaking off of icebergs from ice shelves is a natural occurrence in the life cycle of glaciers.

According to Tarling, polar ecosystems have a vital function in maintaining the balance of carbon and nutrients in the Earth’s oceans and are affected by the melting of icebergs in various manners.

Gathering this data will enhance our comprehension of these procedures and how they are affected by changes in climate.

Source: theguardian.com