The world’s largest iceberg has moved for the first time in 30 years after finally freeing itself from the ocean floor near Antarctica — and it could end up causing problems for wildlife.
Iceberg A23a “calved,” or fell off the greater glacier on the continent, from the western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf and floated in the Weddell Sea before it ended up caught on the ocean floor in 1986. The piece of ice, at a size of 1,500 square miles and weighing nearly a trillion metric tons, is about three times the size of New York City.
The size makes it the world’s largest iceberg in the world, only briefly losing the title to iceberg A76 before that iceberg split into three fragments.
The iceberg will leave Antarctica and move into the Southern Ocean along a path known as “iceberg Alley “, where other pieces remain.
Famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton followed this same path when he made his escape from the area in 1916 after losing his ship to an ice crush, according to the BBC.
Glaciologists and climatologists have tracked the iceberg’s movement with satellite imagery, allowing them to closely mark its trajectory. They have discerned the iceberg is accelerating as it travels out from the shore.
British Antarctic Survey glaciologist Oliver Marsh told Reuters that the iceberg could have finally dislodged from its spot on the ocean floor after thinning for the past few decades, giving it a “little bit of extra buoyancy” that has also allowed it to pick up speed faster than scientists would have anticipated.
The iceberg could snag again once it reaches South Georgia Island, which could prove problematic for the local wildlife as the chunk of ice could block off much-needed access to necessary food.
South Georgia hosts a variety of animal species including seals, seabirds, and penguins. Lack of access to food could put a large number of animal newborns at risk.
If it doesn’t end up causing problems in South Georgia, the iceberg could make its way to South Africa where it may cause major disruptions of shipping routes.
A23a could end up suffering the same fate as A76 and another massive iceberg, A68, which also broke into smaller chunks as it entered warmer waters.
The melting of the iceberg may release minerals that were gathered during its years as an icy glacier which dragged across Antarctica and remained frozen for many thousands of year. Minerals provide nutrients for organisms, but not enough to compensate for the loss of access to food in the near future.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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