100 icebergs heading for New Zealand

Saturday, November 4, 2006

About 100 icebergs are heading for New Zealand and a warning has been issued for ships in the Southern Ocean. The icebergs were spotted off the South Island of New Zealand by plane, Orion. However they are likely to melt before reaching New Zealand, but they may be visible from Stewart Island.

An Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air force plane, spotted the icebergs heading towards New Zealand when it was doing a routine fisheries patrol, south of the Auckland Islands, about 260 km away from Southland.

One of the longest of the hundred icebergs is said to be about 2 km long, 1.3 km wide and 120 m high. But seeing as most of the iceberg is underwater it is more likely around 1.2 km high.

Andy Nielsen, Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron leader, said that they "were surprised by the number of them and by how far north they were. We came across approximately 80 to 100 icebergs...what's unusual about this is we located them about 130 nautical miles south of Stewart Island...we would expect to find the number we found around 600 nautical miles south of Stewart Island. They pose a significant maritime threat (as they are near a major shipping lane). The weather down there is deteriorating, visibility is low tonight in the majority of the southern area."

The last time that an iceberg had been seen from the Mainland was in 1931 at Dunedin, even though icebergs do occasionally break away from Antarctica and head into the Southern Ocean. Mike Williams, physical oceanographer for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said: "The latest sighting may be seen from the Mainland if it gets a bit further north and comes closer in shore. The currents and the wind are likely to drive it north along the Southland and Otago coast."

The icebergs are not being blamed on global warming or global cooling. Mr Williams said: "It has made it all the way to New Zealand is a fantastic rare event, but I don't think we can draw any conclusions about changes in climate."