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A-74 iceberg near collision with Brunt Ice Shelf

A-74 iceberg near collision: Triangular iceberg rotating in the sea around point of a large ice shelf.
Radar images, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, show the movement of the 500-square-mile (1,270-sq-km) berg from August 9 to 18, 2021. Image via ESA.

The European Space Agency originally published this article on August 20, 2021

A-74 iceberg near collision

Iceberg A-74, approximately 1.5 times the size of Greater Paris, calved from Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf earlier this year. Over the last six months, it has remained close to the shelf it broke away from owing largely to ocean currents. In early August, strong easterly winds have spun the iceberg around the western tip of Brunt, brushing slightly against the ice shelf before continuing southward.

The iceberg is 1,270 square kilometers [about 500 square miles].

For years, glaciologists have been monitoring the formation and extension of the fractures, known as rifts, and the opening of large chasms in Brunt Ice Shelf. This ice shelf is 150 meters (about 500 feet) thick. Chasm 1, the large crack running northward from the southernmost part of Brunt, is narrowly separated from the more recent Halloween crack.

Read more about Chasm 1 and the Halloween Crack here

What if the berg hits the ice shelf?

Had the drifting iceberg hit the unstable ice shelf with severe force, it may have triggered the release of a new 1700 sq-km-sized iceberg [about 650 square miles]. Despite reports of a minor impact, the prospective berg remains tenuously attached in the vicinity of McDonald Ice Rumples, where the ice shelf is locally grounded on the seabed.

ESA’s Mark Drinkwater commented:

The nose-shaped piece of the ice shelf, which is even larger than A-74, remains connected to the Brunt Ice Shelf, but barely. If the berg had collided more violently with this piece, it could have accelerated the fracture of the remaining ice bridge, causing it to break away. We will continue to routinely monitor the situation using Sentinel satellite imagery.

During the dark winter months in Antarctica (around the June solstice), radar images are indispensable. That’s because, apart from the region being in a remote region, radar continues to deliver images regardless of the weather or seasonal darkness. The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission returns images regardless of whether it is day or night, also allowing for continuous imaging during what is now Antarctic mid-winter.

With the ice shelf deemed unsafe due to the encroaching cracks in 2017, the British Antarctic Survey closed its Halley VI Research Station and repositioned it to a more secure location around 20 km [12 miles] away from Chasm 1. Halley is made up of eight interlinked pods built on skis which allows the pods to be easily moved in case of unstable ice or new chasms forming on the ice shelf.

Bottom line: Antarctica has been in 24-hour darkness in recent months. But satellite images show that the A-74 iceberg near collision with the Brunt Ice Shelf is ongoing.

Via ESA

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