The British Antarctic Survey announced on Monday that its polar research vessel had a fortuitous encounter with the biggest iceberg in the world. This allowed scientists to gather seawater samples from the massive ice formation as it moves away from Antarctic waters.
On Friday, the RRS Sir David Attenborough encountered the A23a iceberg near the Antarctic Peninsula as it made its way towards Antarctica for its inaugural research expedition.
The iceberg, which is three times larger than New York City and twice as large as Greater London, had been stuck in the Weddell Sea for over thirty years after breaking off from the Filchner Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 1986.
In the past few months, it started to drift and has currently shifted to the Southern Ocean with the assistance of wind and ocean currents. Experts predict that it will soon be carried towards “iceberg alley,” a popular path for icebergs to travel towards the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia.
“It is incredibly lucky that the iceberg’s route out of the Weddell Sea sat directly across our planned path, and that we had the right team aboard to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Andrew Meijers, chief scientist aboard the research ship.
“We are lucky that the A23a route has not affected the strict schedule of our science mission. It is truly incredible to witness this massive iceberg in person, as it extends as far as the eye can see,” he stated.
Laura Taylor, a scientist working on the ship, said the team took samples of ocean surface waters around the iceberg’s route to help determine what life could form around it and how the iceberg and others like it impact carbon in the ocean.
According to the speaker, these immense icebergs have the ability to nourish the surrounding waters, leading to the development of robust ecosystems in areas that are typically less productive. However, the specific impact of individual icebergs, their size, and their origins on this process remains uncertain.
The research vessel, RRS Sir David Attenborough, is currently on a 10-day expedition focused on studying Antarctic ecosystems and sea ice. This project, which costs 9 million pounds ($11.3 million), aims to explore the role of these systems in driving global ocean cycles of carbon and nutrients.
The British Antarctic Survey stated that their discoveries will contribute to a better comprehension of the impact of climate change on the Southern Ocean and its inhabitants.