A giant iceberg that broke off Antarctica in 2017 released the equivalent of 61 million Olympic-size swimming pools of freshwater as it melted, according to research published Thursday, raising questions about the impact on the marine ecosystem.
At 5,719 square kilometers (2,200 square miles), it was the largest iceberg on Earth when it formed and the sixth largest on record, according to the British Antarctic Survey.
For two years, the trillion-ton behemoth known as A-68 drifted close to home in the frigid waters of the Weddell Sea before traveling north and threatening the British island of South Georgia, some 4,000 miles away. kilometers (2,500 miles) from your starting point. .
The iceberg, then known as A-68a after a chunk broke off, came perilously close to the island in late 2020, raising fears it could become stuck on the seabed, block ocean currents and obstruct the passage of thousands of people. penguins and seals. .
But the new study found that while it briefly skimmed the seafloor, the iceberg melted rapidly once in the warmer region around South Georgia and had already lost a significant amount of its volume by the time it reached shallower waters.
Researchers who tracked its journey via satellites calculated that from the end of 2020 until it melted in 2021, A-68 released an estimated total of 152 billion tons of nutrient-rich freshwater into the sea.
That is equivalent to 20 times the water in Scotland’s Loch Ness, or 61 million Olympic swimming pools, BAS said in a press release, adding that it was “a disturbance that could have a profound impact on the island’s marine habitat”.
“This is a lot of melt water,” said Anne Braakmann-Folgmann, a researcher at the Center for Polar Observation and Modeling (CPOM), who led the research published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.
The researchers said that cool, fresh meltwater and nutrients released when icebergs melt can influence local ocean circulation and trigger biological production.
Braakmann-Folgmann said A-68 had taken a “classic” route for icebergs in the region, adding that further research would seek to learn more about how these icebergs are affecting the polar oceans.
Icebergs form when chunks of ice break off from ice shelves or glaciers and begin to float in open water.
Their formation is part of a natural process, although it can be accelerated by warming air and ocean temperatures due to human-caused climate change.
The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.
But the air over Antarctica has more than doubled in temperature.
Ice sheets over Greenland and West Antarctica contain enough frozen water to raise oceans a dozen meters (40 feet), flooding cities and redrawing the planet’s coastlines.
Icebergs are traditionally named after the Antarctic quadrant in which they were originally detected, and then a sequential number.
If they are separated, more letters are added to differentiate the fragments.
Source Credit: TheGuardian
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