Titanic iceberg headed for Australia

By Phil Plait | December 16, 2009 3:23 pm

Holy yikes: an iceberg 25 kilometers across that broke off of Antarctica in 2000 has made a break for it and is headed toward Australia! Check this out:


Whoa. The berg has been monitored from space by NASA since November. Usually, they circulate around Antarctica due to currents there but this one managed to escape, and is drifting northeast toward Australia’s south-southwest coast. Since it broke off the main ice mass it shrank from 140 square kilometers (and may I say HOLY CRAP 140 SQUARE KILOMETERS! That’s 54 square miles!) down to 115 square km.

If you’re not sure how big that is, then think on this: Manhattan is 88 sq km. It would fit comfortably inside that iceberg.

NASA is monitoring this berg using the Terra and Aqua satellites designed for just this purpose. A shipping warning has been issued — though it may be hard to miss a chunk of ice 20 freaking kilometers across, the berg itself is calving, and smaller shards could be a hazard to ships in the area.

That is a whole lot of ice. I can’t help thinking: it’s actually bigger than the Kuiper Belt Object spotted by Hubble which I wrote about earlier. And it’s a whole lot closer. Wow.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Miscellaneous
MORE ABOUT: Australia, iceberg

Comments (86)

Links to this Post

  1. Penguin strike « Masks of Eris | December 17, 2009
  1. Hahhaaaa…. That’s not an Iceberg…. oh wait… yes it is! We’ll try to tow it over to Sydney for TAM.

  2. Holy poop. That thing’s enormous!

  3. That is both impressive and terrifying.
    I wonder if it will make it to the Australian mainland at any decent size.

  4. Craziness! If you could attach a motor and propeller and keep it from breaking, you could make a floating lair on that…Hmmm…..

  5. “We’ll try to tow it over to Sydney for TAM.”

    I’m sure Dick Smith will be happy to help out. He has some experience in this area.

  6. Holy sh… hope they have a huge load of Whiskey to go with it

  7. Cameron

    I’m tempted to conquer it and start my own temporary city-state! Maybe that’s what happened with Atlantis…

  8. Domenic

    Wow lets tow it inland and give it to the farmers. 😉

  9. With the heatwaves & 8 year long drought in Oz, it may melt really quickly & give them much needed cooling factor along with allowing them to have some baths. Drought restrictions in Melbourne mean that they can only have 4 minute showers & can’t water the garden unless they have their own tank water!

  10. Yeebok

    It’d fill at least 2 eskies if you broke it up.

  11. Thurston

    Any rough estimates on how long it would take to reach Australia, if its trajectory doesn’t alter? I know it’s tough to gauge, but I find it more fun to give the specifics to people. Eg. A 54 square miles of ice are gonna slam into Australia in about 8 to 10 months! Better stock up on your Fosters now!

  12. ad

    I’m sure Customs and Immigration will intercept and tow it to Christmas Island before it has a chance to reach the mainland.

  13. ad

    4 minute showers in melbourne? Sheer luxury! Before the rains returned in SE Queensland (oops, not allowed to mention there’s no drought here) we could only have 2 minute showers.

  14. MikeinLondon

    ad: It’s the wrong colour for that surely.

  15. RJ

    Global warming is headed straight for us!!!

  16. Scott

    “though it may be hard to miss a chunk of ice 20 freaking kilometers across”

    tell that one to the titanic crew…

  17. Gary Ansorge

    I recall a Saudi Prince that tried to tow an iceberg to Saudi Arabia, about 20 years ago. Unfortunately, friction with seawater eroded it down to nearly nothing. Since this burg is being propelled by sea currents, it’s not experiencing as much melt due to friction, so it COULD reach Australia somewhat intact. I say, attach a bunch of tugs to it and drive it inland, about 20 miles or so. That’s a LOT of kinetic energy stored in that critter. If it was moving at 5 km/hr, it might just be able to make its own harbor. Then all you need to do is build a sea wall around it and tap into all that fresh water and just think how much it would cool the Outback,,,

    “,,,it would melt really quickly,,,”

    I think it would probably take about 20 years for it to melt, even in Oz. By then, you might have another in the pipeline.

    GAry 7
    Upon careful introspection, I recalled that 9/10s of an iceberg is below water, so if that berg is showing 100 meters above the water line, there’s another 900 meters below. Hmmm. Maybe a new harbor is ,,,questionable,,,

  18. All we need now is a couple of tankers full of Lagavulin.

  19. Travis

    Somewhere a Hollywood producer is greenlighting a new crappy disaster movie called “Berg!”

  20. John Powell

    Time to call Harry Broderick to mount some rocket engines on it and push it into port!


  21. Andy Scott

    “though it may be hard to miss a chunk of ice 20 freaking kilometers across”

    I served on UK submarines for several years and there was always the possibility that while dived in areas of the ocean close to the poles that we could collide with an iceberg.

    Something like this iceberg would present a very real danger, so a shipping warning is very useful for submarines.

  22. *Bracing for impact*

  23. Someone call the Salvage 1 crew!


  24. I was lucky enough to be down in Antarctic waters a few years ago in a an inflatable zodiac boat circling an iceberg as it calved and then rolled over. It is amazing to see something so big rolling. The underside, which became the topside was a beautiful shade of blue. We then zoomed around picking up chunks of ice (football sized) and took them back to the ship for cocktail hour. Nothing like mixed drinks with 10000+ year old ice. I have a video of the iceberg calving somewhere – I’ll have to dig it out.

    So a 25km iceberg is a lot of cocktails.

    edit: I just remembered that I have small slideshow of some Antarctic pix including the iceberg on my blog (click my name). Look for “Michelle’s Antarctica” on the right hand side. Unfortunately I can’t link directly to the photos because of the darn firewall here at work.

  25. Rosefromtexas

    That would be great to see that blue bottom of that one Shane!

  26. Pete

    Ya think there’s a penguin on that ice that’s been calling it “unsinkable” ?

  27. Jefferson

    For us West Coasters, that’s roughly the size of San Francisco!

  28. @Naked Bunny:
    I loved Salvage 1!

    Does anyone know how far away from Australia this is now, and when, and if, it will reach Australia? I would imagine it melting before then, but I’m not sure of the distance.

    Every Spring, Icebergs pass off the coast of Labrador/Newfoundland during the Arctic Ice Sheet break-up, although I do not recall anything this massive ever being reported.

    Leave it to us ingenious Canadians to capitalize on these wonders of nature:

  29. Gary Ansorge

    26. Pete Says:

    Probably! And the penguins name is,,,(wait for it),,,Molly Brown,,,

    27: MichaelL

    As the link indicated, it’s 1054 miles(1700 km) SW of Australia. It broke off the main ice pack in 2000 and is still big enough to be really scary. Good thing it’s not traveling as fast as that dinky little comet,,,

    Gary 7

  30. @John Powell and Naked Bunny:
    Obviously, the ‘obscurity’ of the old Andy G. show isn’t the case on this blog..

    A penguin named Molly Brown?

    Start checking the “SyFy” channel’s Saturday movies in a couple weeks.

    Titanic – iceberg – somehow the idea of it sinking itself keeps coming to mind…..


  31. Obviously, the ‘obscurity’ of the old Andy G. show isn’t the case on this blog..

    Space nerds. ^^

  32. MonkeyDeathcar

    Um, you’ve got your facts wrong. This is the ice that the Planet Express ship brought back from Haley’s comet to combat global warming.

  33. Chip

    While its in international waters, let’s drop Joe Lieberman on it. It can be his own country. We could also place James Inholfe there so he can deny global warming because to him, its obviously “cold” there. Then again Lieberman’s Elmer Fudd voice and Inholfe’s hot air might do even more harm to the environment since their meaningless and monotonous babble would frighten away all the penguins.

  34. merbrat

    @ John Paradox “Unsinkable Molly Brown” Debbie Reynolds movie. Denver socialite who survived the Titanic. Fun musical.

  35. Dr Young, the glaciologist that spotted the berg, said it will probably break up before reaching Australia. It has already shrunk by 60km2 in the last six weeks. Dr Young said while Tasmanian Aboriginal legends spoke of “white islands” floating by, he did not know of any sightings of icebergs from Australia.
    — from The Australian

    *relaxes from brace position*

  36. Enough ice for your Fosters.
    (ducks and covers)

  37. David

    I forget which global warming model agrees with the observations: ice breaking up on one side antarctic and ice forming on the other side of the antarctic.

  38. Joey Joe Joe

    So if this thing hits Australia, is it going to sink?

  39. Ashlyn

    Those last couple of sentences kind of blew my mind

  40. MadScientist

    Oh goody, we need something to help offset the stinking hot weather. Oh damn, I’m inland.

    The ice won’t be easy to spot at night though, so even a huge slab of ice is a shipping hazard. Thermal infrared cameras can spot it if there’s not too much sea mist or water vapor in the air, but that only offers a very small advantage on the night watch.

  41. I just thought that was a delegate to Copenhagen from the ice continent!


  42. Opening round of intercontinental snow ball fight and we’re all out of snow balls.

  43. twilightened

    Australia, worry no more. Your long missed water is on the way.

  44. OK, physics geniuses, how much does it weigh and what would be required to tow it?

  45. #8. Domenic:
    If only there was a way to move all that water from the ice inland. Perhaps an elaborate pipeline to carry meltwater… Oh well, it’d only be a temporary fix. The mid-latitude location of Australia would revert to desert conditions eventually. It’s a shame, though, as the outback would be fantastic with enough water. Imagine Alice Springs with the rainfall that St. Louis gets!

  46. Ryan

    “Titanic Iceberg…”

    I see what you did there…

  47. ad

    > 37. David Says: December 16th, 2009 at 6:24 pm
    > I forget which global warming model agrees with the observations: ice breaking up on one
    > side antarctic and ice forming on the other side of the antarctic.

    Yep, you can bet there’s one to cover every eventuality.

  48. Either way if they tow it to shore it will fight fight fight that global warming. Warm globally, chill locally.

  49. Damon B.

    I hear it’s got a big bumper sticker that reads, “WE BREAK FOR NOBODY”.

  50. There are scientists in Perth who’ve been listening to icebergs for years – literally: they listen to the movement and calving of Antarctic icebergs. Oh, and whales. :)

  51. Anonymous

    47 posts and no one has wrote “Death from the Oceans!”?

  52. Way back in the 70s, producer George Pal (War of the Worlds, puppetoons) was developing a project called “Voyage of the Berg,” about a crew towing an iceberg to water-starved North America. He never could get the financing in place, however, and died before it went into production.

    Of course, if it were to be made today, the iceberg would be traveling at just-under supersonic speed, sending giant rolling tidal waves ahead of it and causing a continent-sinking earthquake when it hit. All in crappy CGI, of course.

  53. Gary Ansorge

    42. Tim Bennett:

    “how much does it weigh and what would be required to tow it?”

    OK. I’ll give it a try,,,

    Let’s see. 115 km^2, surface area(round it off to 100 km squared), with 9/10ths below the surface, makes about 1000 km^3. That’s 1000 meters times 1000 m times 1000 m or 10^9 cubic meters per cubic km,(then multiply by 1000 km^3) therefore there are 10^12 m^3. Fresh water masses 1,000,000 gm/m^3(at STP) , therefore the bergs mass is about 10^18 gms or 10^15 Kg. So, a quadrillion kg of pure water. I’d say you could probably use a couple of super tankers as tugs.(by a couple, I really mean a couple of hundred).

    GAry 7

  54. Sean

    Yes, but may we skate on it?

  55. Gary Ansorge

    42. Tim Bennett:

    Just for comparison, that would make a fresh water lake about 100km long, by 10 km wide by a km deep.

    Is that good enough for ya?

    54. Sean:

    I doubt it would be smooth enough for ice skating but if it has a few hills on it, the skiing should be fantastic.

    GAry 7

  56. Charlie Foxtrot

    “Just for comparison, that would make a fresh water lake about 100km long, by 10 km wide by a km deep. ”

    What’s that in SydHarbs?

  57. Jon B

    The sad part is that you know some AGW Deniers somewhere are going to point to this and say, “Look, icebergs near Australia. What global warming?”

    Completely missing that little detail of how and why icebergs leave the Antarctic to sail to places they shouldn’t be. *Sigh*.

  58. Alan

    That’s no iceberg. It’s a space station.

  59. @Tim Bennett

    According to The Australian, a Murdoch paper so you know it must be right, it is 20 Billion tonnes.

    No way I’m doing the math. Only got 10 fingers. Liquid lunch doesn’t help either.

  60. @Gary Ansorge

    From my albeit limited Antarctic experience the skiing would be painful if you fell over. Not much in the way of fresh snow. The surface is crusty and hard. It is slippery though.

  61. M Burke

    “AGW Deniers somewhere are going to point to this and say, “Look, icebergs near Australia. What global warming?”

    And AGW promoters will point at anything… yes anything and say “Look global warming!” Should tie a line on this and tow it to a drought stricken area. 😉

  62. Charles Evo

    That ice there, I reckon that’s gonna break ‘strallia in half, mate.

  63. And on the floater, a penguin with a monocle and a sneer is saying: “Remember, troops: The Australians are a wily bunch. Don’t get snookered by the drop bear line; just go straight for the stomach, then head for the zoo gate. Don’t get all sentimental because they’re humans; they’re vicious gun’s-sons, they. Don’t forget getting our king back is why we started this iceberg endeavor, and it’s what we’re gonna do.”

    “How we’re gonna get back, boss?” a junior penguin squawks. The terror of being stranded in Sydney is plain in his eyes, though the antarctic-white balaclava hides his expression.

    The leader frowns, or makes the equivalent penguinine expression, and waves a wing dismissively. “Sydney Air Force base. We break in and steal a few Aardvark strike fighters. Why do you think we waited half a year and had Flapper and Coldbeak sent to Russia for pilot training? Speed is of essence, and you don’t want to try to outfly a Hornet on your own, chick my boy! Now, we have a mole inside the zoo that says —“

  64. Wayne Robinson

    It’s not predicted to come anywhere remotely near to the mainland (I was hoping to be able to see it in Perth). The closest it is predicted to get to Australia is Tasmania in about 10 months, and even then it won’t be visible from land.

  65. shawmutt

    We’re gonna need a bigger boat…

  66. Pistachio Wildebeest

    The real problem is the huge prehistoric monster frozen within the ice, which will soon thaw, wake, and rampage through Sydney in search of a mate.

  67. Anji

    Hey, where do u think the Australian Government is going to relocate the colony of penguins that is on this iceberg??

  68. Nuke3d

    #62: Haha, more!

  69. Timmy

    @John Powell: OMG Salvage 1! I vaguely remembered that series and for years it has haunted me. I was too young to remember anything about it except the spaceship made out of junk and the fact that it was only on for a few episodes. I always wondered what the heck it was about. For some reason I thought the rocket looked like a giant percolator coffee pot…

    Now my quest is complete. Thank you and may God bless you, kind sir.

  70. @Masks of Eris – Haha, I love it.

  71. ND


    Sounds like something for the SciFi/Syfy channel original :/

  72. Alex

    That stupid iceberg, our heat will tear it apart.

  73. T.E.L.

    Gary Ansorge Said:

    “115 km^2, surface area(round it off to 100 km squared), with 9/10ths below the surface, makes about 1000 km^3.”

    That makes no sense at all. All you know so far is its horizontal area. You don’t know its vertical dimension because you don’t know how far it sticks up out of the water.

  74. ND

    Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

  75. ZERO

    So, what’ the best prediction you can give me when it impacts the mainland?

  76. T.E.L.

    ZERO Said:

    “So, what’ the best prediction you can give me when it impacts the mainland?”

    Already hit the mainland. Mainland Antarctica, that is. Hit and bounced right back off. Geological evidence seems to place its historical point of origin at… Australia.

  77. Think of all that fresh water! Too bad there isn’t a way to transport it to a place in the world where it may be needed. With so many people in need of good potable water, it’s a shame that an island sized chunk of drinkable water is just melting into the ocean. How could such a huge peice of natural resource be harvested? Boggles my mind as to the scale of such a project.

  78. davivid

    So, if this Titanic iceberg hits Australia will it sink?

  79. Jon B

    @68: “Hey, where do u think the Australian Government is going to relocate the colony of penguins that is on this iceberg??”

    Perth, so they can up the local IQ, of course.

  80. Ray

    Great! The Aussies need to corral that puppy and use it for fresh water. There’s a drought down under don’t you know.

  81. Wow,
    Anybody ever hear of a “DXpedition”? As an Amateur Radio operator, I would love to set up a radio station from the Berg and work the world!!! Any other operators out there?


  82. Phebus

    Wow that’s Humangus, but scary.

  83. ...?

    If you bring the iceberg into Australia and tap the water, the water temperature would change significantly, and it would kill all the fish, coral and reef.

  84. peter

    ok you grab the glasses i,ll get the whiskey this is a savour from the lord.anyone got the coke.cause we are going to party,we have plenty of ice a comming

  85. peter

    ice screams,ice screams get your ice screams


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar