An enormous iceberg with an area of almost twice the size of Atlanta that broke off an Antarctic glacier last year is headed for the open ocean, scientists say.
The ice island, known as iceberg B31, covers 255 square miles and could be almost a third of a mile thick, scientists say in a report from NASA’s Earth Observatory.
NASA glaciologist Kelly Brunt said, “It’s one that’s large enough that it warrants monitoring,” noting that US agencies monitored dozen icebergs at any one time.
Brunt said the iceberg was not in a particularly busy shipping area at the moment. However, Dr. Bethan Davies, a research scientist at the University of Reading, said it could head into areas with more ships.
“It’s floating off into the sea and will get caught up in the current and flow around the Antarctica continent where there are ships,” she told Sky News.
Since November, B31 has drifted out of Pine Island Bay and into the Amundsen Sea off the western side of the continent.
The researchers worry it will be difficult to track the iceberg during the long weeks of darkness that comprise the Antarctic winter.
“The iceberg is now well out of Pine Island Bay and will soon join the more general flow in the Southern Ocean, which could be east or west in this region,” iceberg researcher Grant Bigg from the University of Sheffield in England said in the NASA statement.
A new time-lapse video, released this week by NASA, shows the iceberg’s movement over the last several months. The imagery was captured by the space agency’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), an instrument featured on its Terra and Agua satellites.
Scientists are also able to track B31 via sensor-laden “javelins” that were dropped onto it in 2013 and have GPS trackers.
Scientists at NASA and other international agencies are interested in monitoring B32 to learn more about the movement and dynamics of an iceberg’s lifecycle.
The largest iceberg ever recorded was called B15. With and area of 4,250 square mile- about the size of the state of Connecticut or the island of Jamaica- it calved off Antarctica’s Ross ice Shelf in March 2000. B15 has since broken up, but parts of it still exist around the Antarctic today.