NASA has lately spotted a gigantic iceberg in Antarctica, identified as B31 and together with UK's BAS (British Antarctic Survey), is busy tracking the monster island of ice, which has now escaped into open waters. Despite its sheer size and mass, --experts estimate that the giant iceberg is approximately 600 square kilometres in size--, monitoring is not going to be an easy task with the coming of the Antarctic winter and ensuing darkness.
However, NASA's eyes in the sky are now tracking the iceberg since aircraft from BAS have already marked the iceberg with a total of 37 GPS tracking devices earlier during the year.
The iceberg used to be part of the Pine Island glacier before it calved off forming a giant floating island of ice. Shortly after it separated from its mother glacier, B31 then started floating across the Amundsen Sea. It was then taken by the currents into open water.
Iceberg calving is a very normal process, said NASA glacier expert Kelly Brunt. ”However, the detachment rift, or crack, that created this iceberg was well upstream of the 30-year average calving front of Pine Island Glacier (PIG), so this a region that warrants monitoring.
The Pine Island glacier is of particular interest to scientists due to the fact that the glacier has been melting at a rapid pace due to global warming. Scientists believe that the glacier is one of the major contributors to rising sea levels all over the world. The recent calving process may also be a result of the long term effects of global warming on the Pine Island glacier. Over the years, the glacier has thinned at an alarming rate.
Aside from the effects of the glacier's thinning on global sea levels, other agencies are also concerned regarding the threat the B31 poses to many of the shipping routes that pass through the Southern oceans.
B31 has been well-tracked, said BAS scientist David Jones. Thanks to the early detection of its calving by the IceBridge program, we have been able to study its dynamics from early on in its lifecycle.
Aside from dropping GPS units onto the iceberg, the BAS has also sent over a research ship back in February to investigate the iceberg.
We are doing some research on local ocean currents to try to explain the motion properly. It has been surprising how there have been periods of almost no motion, interspersed with rapid flow, Jones added. There were a couple of occasions early on when there might have been partial grounding or collisions with the seafloor, as B31 bounced from one side of the Bay to the other.”
The U.S. National Ice Centre (NIC) is also one of the agencies monitoring the developments in Antarctica. The NIC has stated that the giant iceberg is around 18 nautical miles long and 11 nautical miles wide. NIC experts also believe that the iceberg was originally more massive but some of the ice has been lost since it first calved off from the Pine Island glacier. Since December, B31 has been able to maintain roughly the same shape and size. Moreover, the NIC estimated the iceberg is around a third of a mile in thickness.