Iceberg Breaks Off Pine Island Glacier, May Disrupt Shipping Lanes
November 14, 2013

Iceberg Breaks Off Pine Island Glacier, May Disrupt Shipping Lanes

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Southampton were awarded an emergency grant to study how an iceberg that recently separated from an Antarctic glacier could disrupt shipping lanes.

Scientists were given $80,000 to fund a six-month study that will predict the movements of a 270-square-mile iceberg that began drifting away from Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica back in July.

A NASA image (above) taken by the Aqua satellite earlier this week shows the iceberg separating from the Antarctic continent.

“The original rift that formed the iceberg was first observed in October 2011 but as the disconnection was not complete, the “birth” of the iceberg had not yet happened. It is believed the physical separation took place on or about July 10, 2013, however the iceberg persisted in the region, adjacent to the front of the glacier,” NASA said about the iceberg.

Scientists from the two universities plan to track the iceberg and predict its path by using satellite data. NASA says this iceberg is roughly the size of Singapore.

The team said part of their project will be to try and simulate what the iceberg might do next, given the wind fields in the region. They will be trying to determine the possible tracks of the iceberg in the coming 12 months or so.

PIG is the longest and fastest flowing glacier in the Antarctic, and this is not the first time large icebergs have been cast aside from this region.

"Its current movement does not raise environmental issues, however a previous giant iceberg from this location eventually entered the South Atlantic and if this happens it could potentially pose a hazard to ships,” Professor Grant Bigg from the University of Sheffield said in a statement.

The team’s work will look into whether or not the iceberg will be crossing into international shipping lanes. If the iceberg does move into shipping lanes, then a warning would be issued through the services of numerous ice hazard agencies. However, the iceberg is more likely to melt before that happens.

“If the iceberg stays around the Antarctic coast, it will melt slowly and will eventually add a lot of freshwater that stays in the coastal current, altering the density and affecting the speed of the current,” Bigg said. “Similarly, if it moves north it will melt faster but could alter the overturning rates of the current as it may create a cap of freshwater above the denser seawater.”

He said the iceberg is not large enough to have a big impact on sea-levels, but it could have an effect. According to Bigg, if these events become more common then there will be a build-up of freshwater that could have lasting effects.

Not only will the team’s research help provide an early warning for the shipping industry, but they will also be testing a technique that could be used by ice hazard warning services in the future.