Mon. May 23rd, 2022

A giant iceberg that detached from Antarctica in 2017 released the equivalent of 61 million Olympic freshwater swimming pools when it melted, according to research published Thursday, raising questions about the impact on the marine ecosystem.

The monstrous iceberg was twice as large as Luxembourg, as it differed from the Larsen ice shelf, which has warmed faster than any other part of the Earth’s southernmost continent.

At 5,719 square kilometers (2,200 square miles), it was the largest iceberg on earth when it was formed, and the sixth largest ever, according to the British Antarctic Survey.

For two years, it drifted trillion tons of giant, known as the A-68, close to home in the cold waters of the Weddell Sea before traveling north and threatening the British island of South Georgia, about 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from the start. point.

The iceberg, then known as the A-68a after breaking off, came dangerously close to the island in late 2020, creating fears that it would get stuck on the seabed, blocking ocean currents and blocking passage for thousands of penguins and seals.

But the new study showed that while briefly grazing the ocean floor, the iceberg quickly melted once in the warmer region around South Georgia and had already lost a significant amount of its bulk by the time it reached shallow waters.

Scientists tracking its journey via satellites estimated that from the end of 2020, until it melted away in 2021, the A-68 released an estimated total of 152 billion tons of nutrient-rich fresh water into the ocean.

That equates to 20 times the water in Scotland’s Loch Ness or 61 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, BAS said in a press release, adding that it was “a disturbance that could have a profound impact on the island’s marine habitat.”

“This is a huge amount of meltwater,” said Anne Braakmann-Folgmann, a researcher at the Center for Polar Observation and Modeling (CPOM), who led the research published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

“The next thing we want to learn is whether it had a positive or negative impact on the ecosystem,” around South Georgia, she said.

‘Classic’ route

Researchers said the cold fresh meltwater and nutrients released when icebergs melt can affect local ocean circulation and boost biological production.

Braakmann-Folgmann said the A-68 had taken a “classic” route for icebergs in the region, adding that further research would seek to learn more about how these icebergs affect the polar oceans.

Icebergs form when pieces of ice break off from ice shelves or glaciers and begin to float in open water.

Their formation is part of a natural process, although a process can be accelerated by warming of air and sea temperatures due to man-made climate change.

The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.

But the air over Antarctica has become more than twice as hot.

Inland ice on top of Greenland and the West Antarctic holds enough frozen water to lift the oceans a dozen meters (40 feet), drown cities and redraw the planet’s coastlines.

Icebergs are traditionally named after the Antarctic quadrant where they were originally discovered, then a sequential number.

If they break, more letters are added to differentiate the fragments.

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