An Iceberg the Size of Luxembourg Breaks Free From Antarctica

By Smriti Rao | February 26, 2010 12:58 pm

iceA giant iceberg has broken free from Antarctica, and scientists say the massive ice chunk could interfere with ocean circulation and wildlife–particularly Antarctica’s iconic residents, the emperor penguins.

The piece of ice broke free when another huge iceberg struck Antarctica’s Mertz glacier; now the two icebergs, with a combined weight of 700 million tons, are floating along the Antarctic coast. The iceberg collision and break-off is a rare event and occurs naturally every 50 to 100 years, scientists say. The new iceberg, which is 49 miles long and about 24 miles wide, holds enough fresh water to supply all of the earth’s human needs for a year [ABC News].

Scientists are keeping a close eye on the situation, as both icebergs could potentially change the salinity of the water in the area, which could alter the flow of ocean currents.

Since breaking off, both icebergs have moved into an area called a polynya or polynia, where an expanse of open water is surrounded by sea-ice. Distributed across the Southern ocean, polynyas are the zones that produce dense water, super cold and rich in salt that sinks to the bottom of the sea and drives the conveyor-belt like circulation around the globe [Agence France-Presse]. Now, with the icebergs possibly lodged in this area, they could reduce the production of the cold salty water, called bottom water, which feeds oxygen into the deep ocean currents. Mario Hoppema, chemical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, said that as a result “there may be regions of the world’s oceans that lose oxygen, and then of course most of the life there will die” [Guardian].

In the short-term, scientists say the new iceberg will impact the colonies of emperor penguins and other wildlife that use the area for feeding. Says Antarctic researcher Neal Young: “There are emperor penguin colonies about 200-300km away to the west. They come to this area to feed, and seals in the area also come to get access to the open water.” … He suggested that a change in the availability of open water could affect the rate of food production, which would have an impact on the amount of wildlife it could sustain [BBC News].

While the so-called “calving” of this new iceberg was extremely dramatic, scientists have clarified that it was a natural event, in contrast to recent rapid ice shelf break-off on the Antarctic peninsula where the climate is warming [The Sydney Morning Herald]. Here is Neal Young, a glaciologist at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Research Centre in Tasmania, explaining the significance of the event.

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Related Content:
80beats: Is the Once-Stable Part of Antarctica Starting to Melt?
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80beats: Antarctica is Definitely Feeling the Heat from Global Warming

Image: Australian Antarctic Division

MORE ABOUT: Antarctica, iceberg
  • Dave

    As much as I try to be optimistic, I have the feeling that we’re really screwed. I think it’s worse than we think.

  • Zachary

    So we’re really screwed because of a naturally occurring event…?

  • Rob

    Just because it is anticipated every 50-100 years does not make this a natural event. Only if ONE glacier this size broke off every 50-100 years could we designate this one a natural event. If a century from now we can look back and say this was the only glacier of fifty by twenty-five miles in size that broke off, then this was actually was a naturally occurring event. But more than likely it won’t be, and despite how much blame we attempt to shift off us and on to the world’s normal patterns, we are responsible.

  • Charlie

    Zachary, did anyone ever tell you that hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are all naturally occurring events?

  • Andi Prama

    Please watch my video

    It’s about climate change (extreme weather conditions), earth catastrophe and our planet as we lives in.
    Recent Earth catastrophes – Continental Drift: One huge continent became 2 continents, then 5 (or 6) and then?

    Thank you.

  • Bob

    This is not something that happens all the time. We need to make some changes in the way we live and fast.

  • Hennry

    No all of you are wrong. It’s going to change ocean climates and mutate squid to the point where they grow opposable thumbs and take over the world by 2012.

  • Ryan

    This article never suggests global warming is the culprit. It simply discusses what may happen due to this event. Learn how to think critically and quit assuming this event is just another piece of evidence supporting your worldview.

  • Tonto – AKA MOF

    What we need is a good volcanic eruption! That will cool the earth’s surface down considerably and things can get back to normal in about 100 years. There will probably be major loss of life but just think of it as something needs to happen for our survival in the long term. I have bets on that…coming soon to a planet near you! Or better yet….Hollywood will come up with something…Stay tuned!

  • Zachary

    Yes, they are natural events as well Charlie, and none of them signal impending doom no matter how individually devastating.

    Rob, Earth’s “normal patterns” are far more varied than the last 150 years, please look at the more complete history before claiming anthropogenic causes.

  • Michael

    It’s big! really big, in fact it’s HUGE!! So this broke off nearly two months ago. Where’s it heading? Does anyone know who’s living on there? Have they been notified of the change of address?! If so, are they happy with their new postcode!

    On a more serious note I think this is very bad for the local environment and for sure, this will have major environmental impact for that area.

    Is there a website or link which can be viewed to track the movements of B9B and the new iceberg? Has it been given a designation?

    Many thanks in advance to anyone who can supply this information.

  • Max

    “Just because it is anticipated every 50-100 years does not make this a natural event. Only if ONE glacier this size broke off every 50-100 years could we designate this one a natural event.”

    That’s not necessarily true; it’s not like 50-100 years is a very exact measurement. It represents a very broad average with very broad error over an extremely long period of time. 50-100 years in terms of the lifetime of the Antarctic continent is very minute. You could keep up that average with 3 such events in a one hour period followed by a 150 year silence either side of those events.

    To some of the others, an iceberg cleaving from the continent by this mechanism is in no way related to any anthropogenic sources as stated in the article. No one drove a ship into Antarctica, and raising temperatures didn’t cause it. It’s incredibly ignorant to try and use this as a piece of evidence to support anthropogenic climate change and is just the sort of thinking that has provided the sustenance for the rapidly increasing influence of skeptic thought in that issue.

    If you don’t understand it, don’t go making assumptions about what it means in the bigger picture.

  • Rachel

    It’s only natural to see this and think of Climate Change. All you have to do is look around and see that humans have a huge and lasting impact on our surrounding, aka, biosphere. The deniers and their angry, hateful worldview will be the death of us all in many areas. Let the corporations do what they want, no regulations. Let the earth be poisoned. Who gives a f***, I’ll be dead anyway. I want my piece of the American Pie! F*** you deniers and the corporate idiot horses you rode in on. Get a f*** science education and think critically, please, or we are all doomed.

  • Zachary

    Get an education in rhetoric Rachel, you sound like a fool. Which sadly makes your view seem foolish as well.

  • Phil

    It’s only natural to see this and think of AGW if you can’t think for yourself and have been force fed politically motivated hogwash masquerading as “accepted science”
    Consensus??? Since when in the hell is science only considered “true” when there’s a consensus?? I’m sure there was a consensus years ago about how the earth was flat….

  • cgray

    Hey Rachel, you are nothing but a global warming cultist, and you cand go F### yourself, thank you very much. I have a science education, and know a socialist scam when I see one. So F### you and the Marxist idiot horses you rode in on.

  • Zachary

    cgray-You have an education in science and yet hate socialism? Learn the history of your field, government subsidized science has resulted in some fairly amazing breakthroughs. For example, all these interwebs we got!

    The AGW stuff does still seem like bunk however.

  • Cory

    Government-subsidized science =/= socialism. Socialism, amazingly enough given its name, has a lot to do with social levelling and welfare. Unless militaries and post offices are “socialist” now, lol.

  • richie

    s***, u lot are good at straying from the point.. and friendly too. my advice; smoke more doobees, watch less t.v and relax a little.. think nice thoughts! ha ha.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • richie

    Things are in a bad way at the moment but gettin pissy at one another only makes the world seem a more depressing place……………………..expected reply: get f****d!!!

  • Makarena

    Rachel, you sound like someone very young who doesn’t know people well. I personally am a “denier”. However I have no “angry, hateful” world view. I agree that pollution should be reduced. I recycle and encourage everyone around me to do so. I own very few things – they’d fit in two suitcases and a laptop bag, so I don’t think you can call me a “corporate idiot”. In the same time, I do acknowledge the fact that we are very easily manipulated and the media has an immense power on us. Therefore I try to be very sceptical about everything that I read in the newspaper. Even more so when someone tries to instil fear in me in order to get me to think or act a certain way.

  • Zachary

    Makarena is spot on, we most certainly are having a ruinous effect on the environment, but not through AGW.

    Cory, you don’t get to define, “things I like that are paid for through taxes” as not socialist, and then “thing I don’t like that are paid for by taxes” as socialist. That’s not how it works.

  • Max

    Michael – I’m not sure if this will be updated, but there’s a lot of footage of the incident available on the Australian Antarctic Division website at . Not sure if he’ll be back to read all this unrelated chatter; is a moderator able to email that link to him?

    But yes, very off-topic here all of a sudden. I’m really sick of this near religious situation of climate ‘deniers’ and ‘warmers’ or whatever people are calling each other these days; it’s on par with WWII governments talking down Jewish Science and is extremely unhelpful. Anyone with an extreme viewpoint has to take a step back from their own tunnel vision and look at this logically with as many facts as they can gather.

    Just because some people jumping on the climate change bandwagon have an agenda doesn’t discredit a theory that has been proven by so many angles that the debate that rages now focuses on peripheral points like glacial retreat. It’s idiocy from every side of this argument that is causing trouble and discrediting the people involved behind pushing their ideas. It’s an extreme issue with potentially extreme consequences, so of course people are going to be passionate about it, but being passionate doesn’t mean you can steadfastly believe in something without knowing what’s behind all sides.

    Me, I think it’s ludicrous that anyone could turn away from so much evidence and say ‘no, I don’t agree with these thousands of credible sources, I’d much rather believe the opinion of an English Duke.’

  • Zachary

    No, the debate does not focus on glacial retreat, mainly it focuses on periods of cooling, like from the end of WWII till the early 1970’s, and for the past decade. It also focuses on facts such as this,

    It doesn’t help that the data of such periods of cooling were actively manipulated by those bodies claiming AGW either.

  • Ramon D

    For those of you reading the above comments and you do not have a clue what on earth is going on, here is a short glossary:
    Climate Change: the gradual warming or cooling of the Earth’s average temperature leading to a change in long term weather patterns (climate)
    Global Warming: the increase in the Earth’s average temperature
    Global Cooling: the decrease in the Earth’s average temperature

    We hardly understand how the earth’s climate functions. We do know that it warms and cools in cycles (hot, cold, hot cold, etc.), yet there were oftentimes periods, The Little Ice Age for example, that break from that trend for a short (100-200 years) time. Rather large “events” are rather independent from climate change and often cause it (giant volcanic explosion, very large icebergs, asteroid collisions, etc.) . Right now, there is no conclusive evidence that human production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are contributing to Global Warming, or this is now the start of a new cycle, or whether this is just a short break from the trend. All we know for certain, is that if we do not stop deforestation, if we do not slow down or even reverse population increases, or if we do not stop polluting, we will pay the price. Whether it will be 50, 100, or even 200 years from now, humanity will pay for its excesses.

  • Zachary

    Ramon D you got it man. That’s the worst part about the anthropogenic climate change being pushed the way it is. It distracts from the terrible, and uncontested, effects we are having on the environment. It will also end up discrediting anyone sounding the environmental warning bell, as well as ruining credibility for science in public opinion.

  • rabidmob

    But who will be the first to claim the iceberg?

    So much fresh water surely it’s worth something… or will be.

  • jj

    Is it ice or a piece of the sky falling?

  • climate denier/realist

    I hope its heading to california, they could use some fresh water.

  • Learn Internet Business

    Greetings, super job, if I wasnt so busy with my study I just read your full blog. I truly need to say thank you!


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