A team of scientists is being sent to study the largest iceberg in the world, which reports may be on a collision course with an island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The “A68a” iceberg – roughly the size of Delaware, according to NASA – broke off the Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula in 2017.
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The iceberg is currently making its way through the South Antarctic Front to the island of South Georgia, where it is in danger of being grounded, according to the government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
If the iceberg collides with the island, it can disrupt the wildlife ecosystem and animal access to food. Large icebergs can change the temperature of the sea around them and introduce massive amounts of fresh water as they melt, affecting conditions for all marine life – from planktonic organisms to whales, according to the Guardian.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will lead the expedition in which researchers fly to the Falklands on January 11, where they will go into quarantine, hop on the RRS James research vessel and board for a three-day voyage to the iceberg.
“Even though icebergs are common, we’ve never had anything this size before, so it’s a first for us,” said Prof. Geraint Tarling, a biological oceanographer at BAS. “It changes the environment a lot.”
“If the iceberg does have soil, we can look at it for ten years because it is so big. It’s going to be a huge problem, ”he continued.
When the supply and research vessel arrives at the iceberg, scientists will collect and study animals in the water. They will also launch two robotic submarines called gliders, which will measure the temperature, salinity and levels of phytoplankton in the water surrounding the iceberg, according to the news organization.
As the gliders patrol the area over a four-month period, scientists hope to get a sense of the iceberg’s impact on the environment.
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Recent images showed the iceberg was about 60 miles off the coast of South Georgia, according to Povl Abrahamsen, the BAS mission’s chief scientist. According to the Royal Navy, it could hit the island this month.
“The iceberg could hit the edge of the plank and scrape or break off the islands. But it can also be grounded and linger for months or years. At this stage it is very difficult to predict what will happen next, ”Abrahamsen told The Guardian.