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World’s biggest iceberg captured crumbling by RAF cameras

Reconnaissance crew sent to aid assessment of threat level from approaching frozen giant

Liam James
Saturday 05 December 2020 15:17
<p>Tunnels and deep fissures run through the iceberg under surface level</p>

Tunnels and deep fissures run through the iceberg under surface level

An RAF aircraft has captured pictures of the world's largest iceberg as it drifts towards the island of South Georgia.

The A400M reconnaissance flight crew observed the iceberg's fraying condition, capturing pictures showing masses of debris that had broken from the main body and fissures extending deep below the surface.

The iceberg, known as A68a, measures around 4,200-square-kilometres, roughly the size of Somerset, and has travelled some 1,050km in the three years since it broke from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf.

A68a has been drifting towards the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and was around 200km from the island's shore when the A400M crew set out.

Scientists said there is a possibility the iceberg could become stuck in the shallow waters around South Georgia, posing a threat to the island's ecosystem.

A68a was far too large to be captured in one picture from the plane

If A68a were to run aground it would cause considerable problems for the island's seals and penguins as their access to food could be restricted, according to researchers based in the region.

“A close-in iceberg has massive implications for where land-based predators might be able to forage,” said Professor Geraint Tarling from the British Antarctic Survey.

A large mass of debris surrounds A68a after breaking off the iceberg

“When you're talking about penguins and seals during the period that's really crucial to them, during pup and chick-rearing, the actual distance they have to travel to find food really matters. If they have to do a big detour, it means they're not going to get back to their young in time to prevent them starving to death in the interim.

“Ecosystems can and will bounce back of course, but there's a danger here that if this iceberg gets stuck, it could be there for 10 years,” Prof Tarling told the BBC.

Cliff face of the iceberg reaches around 30m above sea level

“And that would make a very big difference, not just to the ecosystem of South Georgia but its economy as well.”  

The A400m flight captured imagery and footage that will assist in ascertaining the severity of the threat to the local area. 

Large tabular icebergs were seen breaking off from A68a

The collected data has been shared with the British Antarctic Survey and the government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

“Guided by satellite tracking, the A400M can get under the weather and closer to the iceberg, enabling more detailed observations,” Squadron Leader Michael Wilkinson said in a Facebook post.

A68a was seen around 200km off the coast of South Georgia

“I know I speak on behalf of all of the involved when I say this is certainly a unique and unforgettable task to be involved in.”

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