Long Island-sized iceberg to ram Antarctic coast

Friday, January 14, 2005

Long Island, NY-sized iceberg B15A is on a collision course with the Drygalski Ice Tongue on the Antarctic coast. (NASA animation)

The Drygalski Ice Tongue on Antarctica's coastline may be bitten off this week by a huge iceberg which is on a collision course with the floating glacier tongue.

Antarctic scientists, at the nearby McMurdo Research Station, are watching the movement of iceberg B15A, a remnant of the Ross Ice Shelf, which partially broke apart five years ago.

The 100-mile-long, 1,200 square mile iceberg is affecting wildlife in the area – particularly that of penguins, which are in their breeding season. Biologists fear that if the berg hits the ice tongue and sticks to it, the resulting dam will make it impossible for adult penguins to reach their hunting ground without abandoning their newborn chicks.

If iceberg B15A doesn't stick to the Drygalski Ice Tongue, scientists are considering other possible outcomes:

  • The two massive ice bodies could collide explosively, then bounce away from each other, like a giant pinball-type bumper.
  • The Drygalski Ice Tongue could break off from the Antarctic coast to form another huge iceberg.

Iceberg B15A's speed is subject to the local tides, which may guide the berg to hit more than once, according to researcher Robert Bindshadler, who works at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

"It's a clash of the titans, a radical and uncommon event," said Bindshadler.