The largest section of a huge iceberg that broke off from Antarctica’s Larson ice shelf in 2017 is now headed directly for a collision with remote South Georgia Island.
The first image to the right shows the iceberg’s movement since 2017. The second zooms in to show that the iceberg and island are almost the exact same size, 100 miles long.
South Georgia Island, 1,000 miles east of South America, has no permanent human inhabitants, though explorers, scientists, and mountain climbers do go there periodically. Instead, it is a wildlife preserve:
Around five million seals call the islands home, as well as 65 million birds of 30 different species. Migrating whales and various fish species populate the surrounding waters and there is a large penguin population.
The first link above, from the European Space Agency (ESA), typically shivers with the modern mindless fear that seems to permeate everything our culture considers:
About the same size as the South Atlantic island, it could ground in the shallow waters offshore and cause real problems for the island wildlife and seafloor-dwelling life. Penguins and seals need access to the sea to feed so the iceberg could easily block their foraging routes and life on the seafloor could be crushed if the berg grounds. The fear is that if the berg does anchor against the South Georgia coast, it could remain there for up to 10 years. When the A38 grounded here in 2004, many dead penguin chicks and seal pups were found along the shoreline.
All maybe true, but then, the arrival of icebergs this large to South Georgia Island while likely rare is also quite normal. The sea life there has had to adapt to these events, or else it would not have survived to today.
Also, note the blue lines. Those are the tracks of past icebergs as recorded from orbit. Not only is it common for icebergs to be aimed at South Georgia Island, the currents appear to guide them around the island once they get close. While this new berg is so huge it might plow into the island anyway, the data here suggests it will not.
Regardless, this somewhat rare event provides scientists a opportunity to learn something about the survival of species in hostile environments. We can’t prevent such things, but we can learn their consequences as well as how life adapts under such conditions.
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