(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists said Wednesday that the world’s largest iceberg is on track to collide with a remote island in the South Atlantic, home to thousands of penguins and seals, and could interfere with feeding.
Icebergs naturally rip away from Antarctica and into the ocean, but climate change has accelerated this process – in this case with potentially devastating consequences for the abundant wildlife in the British territory of South Georgia.
In 2017, iceberg A68a, shaped like a palm with a forefinger, broke from the Larsen Ice Shelf in the western Antarctic Peninsula, which is warming faster than any other part of Earth’s southernmost continent.
At the current rate of movement of a gigantic mass of ice, several times the area of greater London, it will take 20 to 30 days to run aground in the shallow waters of the island.
The iceberg is 160 kilometers long and 48 kilometers wide, but less than 200 meters deep, which means that it can swim dangerously close to the island.
“We estimate the probability of a collision to be 50/50,” said Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey.
Thousands of king penguins – live on the island with macaroni penguins, chinstrap penguins and gento penguins.
Seals also inhabit South Georgia, as do wandering albatrosses, the largest flying bird species.
If an iceberg runs aground near South Georgia, feeding sites could be blocked, jeopardizing the survival of seal pups and penguin chicks.
“The world population of penguins and seals will be significantly reduced,” Geraint Tarling, also of the British Antarctic Survey, said in an interview.
The advancing iceberg will also destroy the organisms and ecosystem of the seabed, which will take decades or centuries to recover.
Icebergs up to a kilometer thick represent a continuous ice continuation of land glaciers. They naturally break away from the ice shelves.
But global warming has increased the frequency of this process.
“The amount of ice going from the center of the Antarctic continent to its edges is increasing,” Tarling said.
Until the end of the 20th century, the Larsen Ice Shelf remained stable for over 10,000 years. However, a huge chunk broke off in 1995, followed by another in 2002.
This was followed by the collapse of the nearby Wilkins Ice Shelf in 2008 and 2009 and the A68a in 2017.
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