A giant iceberg, the size of Luxembourg, has broken free from Antarctica and according to scientists could potentially play havoc with weather patterns across the globe for years to come. The massive chunk of ice, more than 985 square-miles in size, broke free from the Mertz Glacier Tongue along the eastern coast of Antarctica on February 12 or 13, and moved out into a region of the Southern Ocean that is vital to the production of cold, salty water that helps circulate important ocean currents.
The new iceberg was created when an older one, labeled as B9B amongst researchers, slammed into an ice shelf, dislodging it from the continent. B9B had broken away back in 1987, and drifted around the region, but had mostly sat dormant until recently. Now, the two pieces of ice have merged to form this one giant berg which could have long lasting implications to global climate.
The newly formed iceberg, which is over 48-miles in length, has already drifted out into a part of the ocean known as a polynya. Polynyas are an area of the Southern Ocean where dense, extremely cold and salty water is produced. That “bottom water”, as it is known, sinks deep into the sea and creates the circulation that moves the various ocean currents around the globe. If the iceberg stays where it is at right now, it could cause a change in those circulations, having an effect on ocean currents worldwide, which will also change jet stream patterns and the movement of weather.
Best case scenario, the iceberg will either move back into the Antarctic coast or drift north into warmer waters, where it won’t cause any problems, but scientists say that isn’t likely. The good news is that it will probably be decades before the effects of the iceberg will be known, and I’m sure by then global warming will have kicked in, and we’ll be happy for the cooling effect this might bring.
%Gallery-79434%Last week we followed up on AP reports here and here that hundreds of icebergs were headed straight for dear, sweet New Zealand. Well, come to find out, it’s TRUE. Behold the following images that prove it, taken by myself from the port side of the good ship Orion this morning. I’m out at sea, several hundred miles south of South Island, but still very much in New Zealand.
The icebergs appeared on the horizon near 52º S and we steered as close as we could get (about a third of a mile) in order to catch a closer look safely. Smaller ice chunks were floating in the distance and there were seabirds roosting on top of them. Since that time I have seen several more groups of icebergs on the horizon. Don’t you just love when the news comes true?
The waters off the southern coast of New Zealand have gotten very crowded lately, as dozens of icebergs have been spotted floating through the region. According to this story from the Daily Mail, the huge slabs of ice have broken off from the Antarctic shelf, and have been flowing north, into the Pacific Ocean, with increasing frequency. In the process, they have become popular tourist attractions, with curious travelers hoping to catch a glimpse of the white walls of ice.
According to the story, icebergs had been traditionally rare in and around New Zealand. In fact, prior to 2006, they hadn’t been seen there since 1931. But in the past few years, they’ve been showing up in large numbers, thanks to global warming causing more dramatic melting in Antarctica.
The exact number of icebergs off the Kiwi coast at the moment is unknown, but they do number in the hundreds. Many of those are quite massive in size. Earlier this week, one was spotted that measured 150 meters in length, while another was estimated to be over 30 meters in height. They are traveling north at a speed of about 16 miles per day, and could be potentially dangerous to shipping traffic, although ocean currents are expected to carry them east, harmlessly out into the ocean.
Meanwhile, the massive chunks of ice are expected to generate lots of interests amongst New Zealanders and visitors from abroad alike, with many taking to the high seas to get an up close and personal look at these gigantic invaders. Over the next few weeks, the icebergs will be another great, natural attraction in a country that seems to have an abundance of them.
Hundreds upon hundreds of menacing chunks of ice are headed straight for innocent New Zealand–a country that couldn’t hurt a fly even if it had flyswatters for hands. Shipping companies haven’t been this fretful since the pirate times of . . . this summer, while the Antarctic tourist industry is rubbing its palms like Mr. Burns.
But is it news? Probably not. It’s springtime for icebergs in Antarctica. Also, Icebergs happen. The real concern is that icebergs are evolving into a major tourist attraction, right up there with sharks and poor people. Every year, more and more tourists are pouring into the polar regions and getting stuck in the ice or struck by the ice. Which reminds me of this movie I saw once where the largest cruise ship in the world (at the time) ran into an iceberg right after dinner and the hot guy drowned. Consider yourself warned: if you play with ice, you’re gonna get
burned cold sitting in a lifeboat waiting to be rescued.