Scientists tracking iceberg twice size of Atlanta

After breaking from Antarctica, the massive iceberg could drift toward South America and threaten shipping lanes.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
NASA's Aqua satellite imaged the iceberg, at the top of the bay, that was part of the Pine Island Glacier. NASA

If you're in dire need of ice for your next party, set sail for Antarctica.

An iceberg about twice the size of the city of Atlanta broke off from the Pine Island Glacier and scientists fear it may threaten shipping in the Southern Ocean as it moves into open waters.

The vast block has an area of about 270 square miles, about the size of Singapore. It recently put about a mile between itself and the glacier after a rift formed in July.

When it makes its way out of Pine Island Bay in West Antarctica, it could drift toward the Drake Passage between the continent and the tip of South America.

Scientists from Sheffield and Southampton universities are tracking the berg and will attempt to predict its path using data from satellites such as Germany's TerraSAR-X.

The six-month project is part of a grant from Britain's National Environment Research Council (NERC) to track the iceberg.

"The primary reason to monitor the iceberg is that it's very large," Robert Marsh of the University of Southampton said in a release.

"An iceberg that size could survive for a year or longer and it could drift a long way north in that time and end up in the vicinity of world shipping lanes in the Southern Ocean," added Marsh, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

"There's a lot of activity to and from the Antarctic Peninsula, and ships could potentially cross paths with this large iceberg, although it would be an unusual coincidence."

Icebergs of similar scale break off from glaciers every two years, but this is the first attempt to predict their path, according to the University of Southampton.

In 2011, icebergs roughly the size of Manhattan were broken off from Antarctica by waves from the tsunami that devastated northern Japan.