NASA is tracking an iceberg – an ice island, really – 240 square miles (over 600 square kilometers). That’s in contrast to about 23 square miles for New York’s Manhattan Island. Scientists have labeled this iceberg as B31. It separated from the front of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier last November and began a journey across Pine Island Bay, a basin of the Amundsen Sea. It’ll likely be swept up soon in the swift currents of the Southern Ocean, and it will soon be hard to track visually because the Antarctic is heading into winter darkness for the coming six months.
The significance of this large iceberg is still being sorted out, NASA says. Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, noted:
Iceberg calving is a very normal process. However, the detachment rift, or crack, that created this iceberg was well upstream of the 30-year average calving front of Pine Island Glacier, so this a region that warrants monitoring.
Pine Island Glacier itself – the source of the massive iceberg – has been the subject of intense study in the past several decades. Scientists speak of this glacier as the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The glacier has been thinning and draining rapidly and may be one of the largest contributors to sea level rise. Read more: As ocean warms, Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier thaws
Large icebergs like this one pose a danger to ships. Our modern shipboard technologies – radar and warning systems – can’t always prevent accidents. For example, in 2007, the MS Explorer, an Antarctic cruise ship, sank after striking an iceberg near the South Shetland Islands. Read more at CBS News.
Bottom line: NASA is tracking the huge iceberg B31, which broke away from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier in November 2013. Winter is now approaching in the southern part of the world, and thus the iceberg – which is about six times the size of Manhattan Island, and perhaps 500 meters thick – will soon be hard to track visually.