Two huge icebergs let loose off Antarctica's coast

Feb 26, 2010 By OWEN PYE , Associated Press Writer
In this satellite image released by Commonwealth of Australia, a 97-kilometer (60 mile) long iceberg known as B9B, right, is about to crash into the Mertz Glacier Tongue, left, in the Australian Antarctic Territory on Jan. 7, 2010. The collision created a new 78-kilometer (48 mile) long iceberg. (AP Photo/Commonwealth of Australia)

(AP) -- An iceberg about the size of Luxembourg that struck a glacier off Antarctica and dislodged another massive block of ice could lower the levels of oxygen in the world's oceans, Australian and French scientists said Friday.

The two icebergs are now drifting together about 62 to 93 miles (100 to 150 kilometers) off Antarctica following the collision on Feb. 12 or 13, said Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Neal Young.

"It gave it a pretty big nudge," Young said of the 60-mile (97-kilometer) -long iceberg that collided with the giant floating Mertz Glacier and shaved off a new iceberg. "They are now floating right next to each other."

The new iceberg is 48 miles (78 kilometers) long and about 24 miles (39 kilometers) wide and holds roughly the equivalent of a fifth of the world's annual total water usage, Young told The Associated Press.

Experts are concerned about the effect of the massive displacement of ice on the ice-free water next to the glacier, which is important for ocean currents.

This area of water had been kept clear because of the glacier, said Steve Rintoul, a leading climate expert. With part of the glacier gone, the area could fill with sea ice, which would disrupt the ability for the dense and cold water to sink.

This sinking water is what spills into ocean basins and feeds the global ocean currents with oxygen, Rintoul explained.

As there are only a few areas in the world where this occurs, a slowing of the process would mean less oxygen supplied into the deep currents that feed the oceans.

"There may be regions of the world's oceans that lose oxygen, and then of course most of the life there will die," said Mario Hoppema, chemical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.

The icebergs, weighing 860 billion tons and 700 billion tons respectively, are located in water over the Antarctic Continental Shelf, Young said.

"We expect them to head west along the Antarctic coastline," he said.

Young said it was not likely they would reach as far north as Australia, and noted icebergs are very slow movers.

Oxygen levels being fed into the world's ocean currents are now changing "and the overturning circulation currents will respond to that change," Rintoul said. Observing what happens "will ... allow us to improve predictions of future climate change," he added.

Explore further: 2014 Antarctic ozone hole holds steady

4.6 /5 (11 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Icebergs head from Antarctica for New Zealand

Nov 24, 2009

(AP) -- Ships in the south Pacific Ocean have been alerted that hundreds of icebergs believed to have split off Antarctic ice shelves are drifting north toward New Zealand, officials said Tuesday.

Mammoth iceberg could alter ocean circulation: study

Feb 25, 2010

An iceberg the size of Luxembourg knocked loose from the Antarctic continent earlier this month could disrupt the ocean currents driving weather patterns around the globe, researchers said Thursday.

Ships warned about icebergs headed for New Zealand

Nov 25, 2009

(AP) -- Ships are on alert and maritime authorities are monitoring the movements of hundreds of menacing icebergs drifting toward New Zealand in the southern Pacific Ocean, officials said.

Winds drive icebergs away from New Zealand

Dec 01, 2009

(AP) -- Strong westerly winds in the southern Pacific Ocean have driven scores of icebergs originally headed toward New Zealand to the east, away from the country, an oceanographer said Tuesday.

Giant iceberg spotted south of Australia

Dec 09, 2009

A monster iceberg nearly twice the size of Hong Kong island has been spotted drifting towards Australia in what scientists Wednesday called a once-in-a-century event.

Recommended for you

2014 Antarctic ozone hole holds steady

7 hours ago

The Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak size on Sept. 11, according to scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The size of this year's hole was 24.1 million ...

New study finds oceans arrived early to Earth

10 hours ago

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life ...

Magma pancakes beneath Lake Toba

10 hours ago

Where do the tremendous amounts of material that are ejected to from huge volcanic calderas during super-eruptions actually originate?

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

frenchie
2 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2010
but it's snowing in washington!! this clearly means nothing!
clearly another scientist conspiracy.

/sarcasm off

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.