An iceberg the size of Delaware, which was on course to crash into an island populated by a penguin colony, has broken into two pieces, scientists tracking its journey said on Friday.
In the last few weeks, the iceberg, dubbed A68a, came dangerously close to South Georgia Island in the south Atlantic, threatening to cut off vital ocean access for the island’s penguin and seal population.
The island is home to millions of gentoo, macaroni, and king penguins and sea lions, nesting albatrosses, and petrels.
But as the massive iceberg approached the western shelf edge of the island this week, strong underwater currents caused it to turn nearly 180 degrees, Geraint Tarling, a biological oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey, told The Guardian.
“You can almost imagine it as a handbrake turn for the iceberg because the currents were so strong,” Tarling said, according to The Guardian.
The intense turn caused the large iceberg to break into two pieces, just 31 miles (50 kilometres) away from the island’s west coast.
🔵Iceberg A-68A and A-68D near #SouthGeorgiaIsland🇬🇸 20 Dec – Red outlines are positions Dec 17, 18, and 19. Both icebergs still moving freely in southern direction #Copernicus🇪🇺 #Sentinel-3🛰️ Full-size ➡️ https://t.co/0Hj5X16wno More ➡️ https://t.co/oj8sb29qU2 #OpenData #scicomm pic.twitter.com/yujf6JEWel
— Pierre Markuse (@Pierre_Markuse) December 20, 2020
The new, smaller piece, which has already been named A68D, is currently moving further away from the original. Scientists are unable to provide an estimate of its size.
The original iceberg is heading south-east, where it is expected to be picked up by another current that will carry it back around toward the island’s east coast.
Scientists warn that South Georgia Island is not in the clear just yet and that the separate pieces could still cause an environmental disaster for its inhabitants.
“All of those things can still happen. Nothing has changed in that regard,” Tarling said, according to The Guardian.
A68a first broke off from an Antarctic ice shelf in 2017 and had been drifting ever since.
As it headed towards South Georgia Island, scientists worried that it would completely destroy the island’s underwater shelf and marine life.
There is also a possibility of the iceberg getting lodged in the island’s shoreline, where it could stay there for 10 years. That would cut access to the ocean for penguin and seal parents, who make trips into the water to fill up on fish and krill to feed their young.
South Georgia Island finds itself in a perilous location because it sits in the middle of an alley of currents that bring bigger icebergs north from Antarctica toward the Equator.
In 2004, another iceberg, called A38-B, ran aground off the island, killing many seal pups and young penguins.
Registering a record high temperature of 20.75 degrees Celsius (69.35 degrees Fahrenheit) on February 9, the peninsula is also one of the fastest-warming places on Earth, which has scientists worried that the melting ice will eventually contribute to higher sea levels worldwide.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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