Giant Antarctic Iceberg on Collision Course with British Atlantic Island of South Georgia

The iceberg which could hit South Georgia is the broken part of the Larsen C ice shelf that separated in 2017 July

A massive iceberg, which is 150kilometer (93 miles) long and 48km (30 miles) wide, is on a collision course with the British Atlantic island of South Georgia. Experts assume that the impact could disrupt the British territory's economy, as well as the wildlife, specifically the penguins and seals.

The Iceberg, A-68A, is the broken part of the Larsen C ice shelf on the east of Antarctica's peninsula that separated from the long ice shelf in July 2017. As per the experts, the iceberg is of the same size as South Georgia where it is expected to hit. The iceberg has since drifted about 1,400 kilometers north through the area called "iceberg alley" to find itself about 500 kilometers away from its collision region.

What Will Happen Next

A-68A NASA/ earthobservatory

As some media organizations exaggerated the size of A-68a and called it "world's biggest iceberg" to increase the threat level at highest, Dr. Sue Cook, a glaciologist at the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership told The Guardian that even though it is following on a familiar track like others, the ultimate fate was difficult to predict.

According to the glaciologist, the iceberg, which lasted for three years—longer than scientists expected its survival—is "absolutely huge and it's the largest iceberg around in the Southern Ocean." She also said that A-68a which is only 200 meters thick could break apart or run around but the predictions became difficult due to the weather conditions, currents, and its shape.

However, as reported by BBC, Professor Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey expressed his concerns regarding the potential impact in South Georgia and said that a close-in iceberg has "massive implications for where land-based predators might be able to forage."

While explaining the possible scenario, he said, "When you are talking about penguins and seals during the period that's really crucial to them – during pup and chick-rearing – the actual distance they have to travel to find food really matters." If these inhabitants have to do a big detour, it will take them a long time to return to their younger ones to prevent them from starving to death in the interim.

According to Tarling if A-68a doesn't bounce back, there is a risk that it could sit around for at least a decade and that would change South Georgia's ecosystem as well as the economy.

A-68a: The Iceberg

Larsen C
Larsen C edge to A68 Wikimedia commons

Three years ago when the iceberg separated from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf, it was about 175 kilometers long and almost 50 kilometers wide, bigger than the size of Luxembourg. As per NASA, this year in April, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on Terra satellite got the image of this floating iceberg about 230 kilometers west-southwest of the South Orkney Islands.

As per Cook, it is very hard to predict where A-68a will end up. It is about 500 kilometers off South Georgia at the moment, but given its 150kilometer long that is not very far, said Cook. "I can see why people would be concerned. Because most of it is underwater, it will project a long way underneath which means it's easy for it to run aground, and that's also common," she noted.

However, experts speculated that Larsen C became vulnerable to disintegration as "when you lose a large area there's always a chance the remaining shelf will be more unstable," explained Cook. But if A-68a head into warmer waters, and break apart much faster, it doesn't mean that it will directly contribute to the sea level rise—because ice shelves are already floating in the ocean.