The largest iceberg in the world has begun to drift and has already entered the open ocean: why is it dangerous?
The world's largest iceberg, known as A23a, which broke off the coast of Antarctica in 1986 and began its movement in the spring of 2023, reached the open waters of the Southern Ocean in mid-November. Writes about this Meduza.
A23a formed from a large ice mass calved from the outer edge of the Filchner Ice Shelf and has remained anchored to the seafloor for the past 37 years. In the spring, he began active movement and has already covered a distance of 1118 nautical miles (2070 kilometers).
During the drift period, the iceberg's area remained almost unchanged and currently amounts to approximately 4170 square kilometers. The thickness of A23a, according to British Antarctic Survey researchers Ella Gilbert and Oliver Marsh, is approximately 400 meters.
Scientists Gilbert and Marsh argue that an iceberg of this size can remain for a long time even in the warm waters of the South Atlantic. According to them, there is a possibility that the iceberg will move north towards South Africa, where there is a risk of impacting maritime navigation. On the other hand, Russian scientists suggest that the iceberg will either enter the Scotia Sea in December, where it will soon cease to exist, or will continue to drift in the Weddell Gyre system for several years.
What do we know about the iceberg
Information about this ice block became known in 1986, when oceanologist Vladimir Bessonov spent the winter at Molodezhnaya station. While studying photographs of the Filchner glacier, he noticed that three icebergs had broken off from it, including A23a, he writes Snob.
For more than 30 years, the iceberg was stranded in the southern Weddell Sea. However, in July 2023, during the Antarctic winter, the iceberg began to actively drift, moving at a speed of more than 150 kilometers per month. In six months he covered a distance of more than two thousand kilometers. According to British Antarctic Survey remote sensing expert Andrew Fleming, A23a is currently gaining even greater speed.
The reasons for setting the ice block in motion remain unclear. Experts are still unanimous in their opinion that this is due to global warming. A glaciologist from the British Antarctic Survey, Oliver Marsh, suggests that the iceberg probably gradually melted, decreasing in size, and was carried away by ocean currents.
After visiting Antarctica, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that record ice melting there was taking place, confirming alarming trends regarding climate change.
What is the danger
The iceberg poses a potential threat to shipping and offshore oil platforms, emphasizes Dina Kuzina, senior researcher at the Laboratory of Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology, and Paleomagnetism at Kazan Federal University. In the event of a collision with an iceberg, oil leaks may occur, which can lead to poisoning and death of sea creatures. Kuzina believes that when the glacier melts, the temperature and salinity of the water may change, since icebergs consisting of fresh water affect the chemical composition of the surrounding marine space.
This, emphasizes oceanologist Valery Lukin, is dangerous for animals such as penguins, seals and walruses. Ice blocks can block access to food for these marine creatures, creating additional problems for their survival.
In addition, the iceberg may collide with the island. The most recent such incident occurred on September 6, 2023, when cameras on NASA's Aqua satellite recorded the collision of the 30 square kilometer iceberg D-1,4A with a small island in the South Shetland Islands archipelago known as Clarence. The collision could pose a threat to the estimated 100 penguins that come to the island every winter to breed and raise their young. However, fortunately, there were no birds on the island at that moment.
After the collision, the iceberg revolved around the island for two weeks, but then floated away and continued to drift in the open ocean.
What will happen next, and can it be destroyed?
Candidate of Geographical Sciences Pyotr Krylov argues that the destruction of such a large iceberg is impossible. In his opinion, exploding an ice block, firing cannons at it, or installing heat generators is not possible due to the gigantic size of the object.
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“At such a scale, all these methods are simply unrealizable,” says Krylov.
Igor Shkradyuk, coordinator of the industrial greening program at the Center for Wildlife Conservation, assures that there are no tankers in the world capable of towing such a huge iceberg. He emphasizes that scientists have been proposing to transport icebergs to regions with a shortage of fresh water, such as the Persian Gulf, for more than 50 years. However, according to him, not a single one of these projects was ever implemented in practice.
Experts from the Center for Ice and Hydrometeorological Information at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, responsible for monitoring iceberg A23a, believe that its future fate depends on the complex interaction of currents, underwater terrain and other factors.
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