World’s biggest iceberg FOUR TIMES the size of Greater London is steaming towards the open ocean and could pose a risk to shipping vessels

  • The 2,239-square-mile A68 iceberg is speeding up in its trajectory north towards the open Southern Ocean
  • The massive berg that’s roughly the size of Delaware broke off from the Antarctic Peninsula back in 2017 
  • A68 broke away due to iceberg calving – the breaking away of masses of ice from the edge of a glacier
  • Scientists are hopeful that the berg breaks apart once it reaches the ocean so it doesn’t cause havoc for ships 

The world’s biggest iceberg is about to enter the Southern Ocean after breaking free from the Antarctica more than two years ago.

The iceberg, called A68, measures nearly 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometres), making it about four times the size of Greater London and almost the same size as the US state of Delaware. 

The enormous berg, which weighs one trillion tonnes, broke off from the Antarctic in 2017 and has been steadily travelling north ever since.

A68 is currently at about 63 degrees South latitude, but once it reaches the open ocean it’s likely to break down due to rougher waters. 

It’s being carried north by currents and in the last year has started to accelerate in its journey northwards towards South Georgia, an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

The western edge of the famed iceberg A-68 (TOP R), calved from the Larsen C ice shelf, is seen from NASA’s Operation IceBridge research aircraft, near the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula region

The A68 has made impressive progress in its drift towards the Southern Ocean but scientists say it will struggle to maintain its integrity when it reaches the ocean’s rougher waters

The berg broke away due to iceberg calving – the breaking away of masses of ice from the edge of a glacier.

Rising waters and air temperatures caused by global warming are triggering instabilities along the coasts of Antarctica and Greenland, accelerating melting and increasing the rates of calving.

However, scientists are hopeful that the berg breaks down as it travels further towards the equator and reaches choppier waters.  

‘With a thickness to length ratio akin to five sheets of A4, I am astonished that the ocean waves haven’t already made ice cubes out of A68,’ Professor Adrian Luckman glaciologist and professor of geology at Swansea University, told the BBC.

‘If it survives for long as one piece when it moves beyond the edge of the sea-ice, I will be very surprised.’

One of the largest icebergs ever to have existed, A-68 is on the move and new footage compiled from satellite images tracks its more than 155 mile (250km) journey towards South Georgia. At 2,239 sq miles it is roughly the size of Delaware (2,490 sq miles), or four times the size of Greater London 580 sq miles, and its volume is twice that of Lake Erie

Since it calved from Antarctica’s Larson C ice shelf two years ago, the iceberg has rotated 270 degrees and drifted 155 miles north, carried by the ocean current known as the Weddell Gyre. Pictured: A-68 in it begins to break away from it’s starting position  

Objects as big as the A68 have to be constantly tracked as they could pose an obstacle or even a threat to ships.

‘If it becomes a risk really depends on the route the iceberg follows, but I guess that also the smaller bergs will be tracked and their location will be communicated to ships,’ Sef Lhermitte, professor of geoscience and remote sensing at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, told MailOnline. 

Since it calved from Antarctica’s Larson C ice shelf two years ago, the iceberg rotated 270 degrees and drifted 155 miles north as of last summer, carried by the ocean current known as the Weddell Gyre.

At 2,239 square miles (5,800 square km) it is roughly the size of Delaware (2,490 square m / 6,450 square km), or four times the size of Greater London 580 square m (1,500 square m), and its volume is twice that of Lake Erie – America’s fourth largest lake.

THE TOP FIVE LARGEST ICEBERGS EVER 

B15: 4,200 square miles (2000)

A38: 2,664 square miles (1998)

B15A: 2,471 square miles (2002)

A68: 2,239 square miles (2017)

C19: 2,123 square miles (2002)

Years in parenthesis note the date the bergs were recorded. 

All the top five calved from Antarctica. 

A68 is the only one that remains, making it the world’s largest iceberg as of 2020. 

Professor Luckman had previously published an animation of the glacier’s movements between January 6, 2018 and July 10, 2019 on his blog.

‘For an object weighing around one trillion tonnes, Iceberg A68 appears to be quite nimble,’ Professor Luckman wrote.

‘Following a year of staying close to its parent ice shelf, in mid-2018 A68 became caught in the Weddell Gyre, a clockwise ocean current, which spun it through 270 degrees and carried it 250km north.

‘The iceberg is 100 miles (160 km) in length yet only 656 ft (200 m) thick – a similar ratio to a credit card – so it is surprising how little damage it has sustained in its journey so far.’ 

The fissure that caused A68 seemed relatively stable until January 2016, when it began to lengthen, according to the ESA, which reported the breaking off of A68 in July 2017. 

When it first split, scientists expected the iceberg to quickly break apart and disintegrate, but it has remained mostly intact. 

In March 2018, a British expedition intended to sample marine life at A68 – which contains about the same amount of water as Lake Ontario in North America – but it had to turn back due to thick sea ice that slowed them down.  


Major growth of cracks spotted by the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites of the Pine Island Glacier, which is responsible for about 25 per cent of Antarctica’s ice loss with New fractures showing up, others growing more than 3.1 miles (5 km) in six days. Left shows the fracture on 26 January 2020 and right shows the same fracture on February 1 2020 

Professor Luckman has also been observing the Pine Island Glacier in the West Antarctic, which is ridden with cracks and could split apart this year.

Major growth of cracks spotted by The European Union’s Copernicus EU Sentinel-2 satellites, with new fractures growing more 3.1 miles (5 km) in six days.

When it does break off, the 115 square mile (300 square km) berg will break up into pieces soon after, Professor Luckman said.

WHAT IS THE A-68 ICEBERG AND WHAT CAUSED IT TO BREAK AWAY FROM ANTARCTICA?

In July 2017, a huge crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf caused a trillion ton iceberg – the third biggest ever recorded – to break off from the icy southern continent.

The huge chunk of ice, dubbed iceberg A-68, measures 5,800 square kilometres (2,240 square miles), making it around the size of Delaware, or four times the area covered by Greater London.

Since A-68 broke away, it has remained unclear what will happen to the giant mass, with fears it could break up into pieces too small to track on satellite, and drift into shipping lanes.

In July 2017, a huge crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf caused a trillion ton iceberg – the third biggest ever recorded – to break off from the icy southern continent. These detailed images were captured by instruments aboard Nasa’s Landsat 8 satellite

Experts have found that cracks are still growing on Larsen C, and if they continue to grow, it’s possible that the ice shelf could collapse.

If all of Larsen C collapses, the ice it holds back might add another 4 inches (10 cm) to global sea levels over the years.

Many scientists argue that a calving event was not necessarily due to climate change.

Instead, it may simply reflect the natural growth and decay cycle of an ice shelf.

 

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