December 9, 2009

Huge Iceberg Floating Towards Australia

Scientists have reported a giant iceberg over twice the size of Sydney Harbor is on a slow but steady collision course with Australia, according to the Telegraph UK.

Researchers at the Australian Antarctic Division (ADD) spotted the 12 mile-long and 5-mile wide chunk of ice floating close to the mainland.

The iceberg, known as B17B, is currently drifting 1,000 miles from Australia's west coast and is gradually moving north with the ocean current and prevailing wind.

Should the iceberg eventually reach Australian waters, it would crash into the continental shelf causing a three to four magnitude tremor, according to Dr. Neal Young, a glaciologist working for the ADD.

But the iceberg is unlikely to hit the Australian mainland and Young said if it continued on its path north, it would eventually break up into hundreds of smaller icebergs.

"As the waters warm, the iceberg will thin out, so it is not going to get to Australia, the further north it goes, the more it will break up," he said.

However, smaller icebergs that broke off when the larger berg shattered could become shipping hazards if they float closer to shore.

Scientists have not seen an iceberg the size of B17B so far north since the days when 19th century clipper ships plied the trade route between Britain and Australia, Young said.

He added that they do occasionally see large icebergs, but it can be a long time before they spot one.

"It's really a once-in-a-lifetime sighting," he added.

B17B broke off Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 along with several others. It was originally three times its current size and has since traveled thousands of miles and a third of the way around Antarctica, due to ocean currents and winds.

Experts say it stayed completely still in one spot for about five years, but is now on the move again.

Young said they originally spotted the iceberg -- which has an area equating to 87 square miles - roughly double the size of Sydney Harbor -- using satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency.

Observers say that in recent weeks several large icebergs have been sighted off Australia and New Zealand, but none rivaled the size of B17B.

Young said large iceberg sightings could become more frequent if sea temperatures rise through global warming.

Over the past 50 years, Antarctic temperatures have risen by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit, around six times the global average.


Image 1: Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast. Taken November 9, 2009

Image 2: Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast. Taken November 5, 2009


On the Net: