Iceberg on collision course with major penguin colony ‘Massive implications’

The iceberg in question is known as A68a in Antarctica and is roughly the same size as Somerset. After it broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in 2017, the iceberg has been drifting aimlessly, but researchers now believe it poses a huge threat to a major penguin colony.

As it stands, the iceberg is currently heading towards the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia where thousands of penguins reside.

However, if it hits, the food chain for the penguins could be cut off, leading to starvation among the native birds as well as nesting seals.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) believe there is a 50/50 chance the iceberg will hit.

If it does, it could block off the path to open water and disturb local marine wildlife.

In both instances, the iceberg would majorly disrupt the natural food supply.

Professor Geraint Tarling, an ecologist at British Antarctic Survey, said: “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.

“An iceberg has massive implications for where land-based predators might be able to forage.

“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 (fish and krill) 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.”

BAS remote-sensing and mapping specialist Dr Peter Fretwell said: “Whether it grounds and gets stuck or drifts past the island is in the balance.

“The currents should take it on what looks like a strange loop around the south end of South Georgia, before then spinning it along the edge of the continental shelf and back off to the northwest.

“But it’s very difficult to say precisely what will happen.”

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However, the drifting iceberg will bring benefits.

The huge block of ice carries with it dust which fertilises plankton, which ultimately helps in the battle against climate change.

Professor Tarling said: “It carries enormous quantities of dust that fertilise the ocean plankton in the water that cascades up the food chain.

“This plankton also draws in carbon from the atmosphere, partially offsetting human CO2 emissions.”

However, BAS Remote Sensing Manager Andrew Fleming said it may not make landfall yet.

He said: “A68a is spectacular. The idea that it is still in one large piece is actually remarkable, particularly given the huge fractures you see running through it in the radar imagery.

“I’d fully expected it to have broken apart by now. If it spins around South Georgia and heads on northwards, it should start breaking up.

“It will very quickly get into warmer waters, and wave action especially will start killing it off.”

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