World’s biggest iceberg is on collision course with British Atlantic island South Georgia, posing grave threat to local penguins and seals
- A68a has been moving towards South Georgia since breaking from Antarctica
- The iceberg is about quarter of the size of Wales and more than 656 feet thick
- If it lands near South Georgia it could affect penguin and seal foraging routes as well as the local fishing industry, scientists say
- Currents, weather and the size of the iceberg could have an impact on its course
The world’s largest iceberg is on a collision course with the British Atlantic island of South Georgia, threatening the territory’s penguins and seals.
The iceberg – known as A68a – is about quarter of the size of Wales and more than 656 feet thick. It is expected to run aground near the shores of the British Overseas Territory.
Such an event could be disastrous for the local penguin and seal populations as there is a risk their established foraging routes could be blocked, hampering them from feeding their young.
Creatures living on the seafloor would also be crushed where the iceberg landed, the BBC reported, further disturbing the ecosystem in the area.
Professor Geraint Tarling from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told the BBC that if the iceberg gets stuck it could stay in position for 10 years and disturb South Georgia’s economy as well as its ecosystem.
The world’s largest iceberg, known as A68a, has been travelling towards the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia since breaking off from Antarctica in 2017
Fears are rising that the mammoth mass might land in one of the local fishing industry’s most productive areas.
Among the potential negative effects of the iceberg grounding off South Georgia, there are also some positives.
Tarling said icebergs carry huge amounts of dust with them that will fertilise the ocean plankton around them – a benefit that will travel up the food chain.
A68a has been drifting since breaking away from Antarctica’s Larsen C shelf in mid-2017 and is now just a few hundred kilometres away from South Georgia’s southwestern shore.
As it moves closer to the British Overseas Territory, BAS scientists are working with experts in other fields to chart its path.
Currents, weather and the shape of the iceberg – which resembles a pointed finger when seen from above – could affect the course it takes.
Dr Andrew Fleming told the BBC that a request had been sent to the European Space Agency for more satellite imagery, which would allow the BAS team to track the satellite regardless of weather conditions.
South Georgia island is home to penguins and seals, whose foraging routes could be disrupted if the A68a iceberg grounds off its coast [File photo]
While such imagery suggests that the iceberg is on a direct path for South Georgia, nothing is certain according to mapping specialist Dr Peter Fretwell.
‘The currents should take it on what looks like a strange loop around the south end of South Georgia, before then spinning it along the edge of the continental shelf and back off to the northwest.
‘But it’s very difficult to say precisely what will happen,’ he told the BBC.
He added that he ‘fully expected’ the huge mass of ice to have broken apart by now considering the ‘huge fractures’ that can be seen running through it on satellite imagery.
‘If it spins around South Georgia and heads on northwards, it should start breaking up. It will very quickly get into warmer waters, and wave action especially will start killing it off,’ he said.
The waters around South Georgia are littered with some of Antarctica’s largest icebergs.
Strong currents push the huge blocks of ice up calved from Antarctica before their keels hit the continental shelf surrounding the territory.