Giant iceberg slams into glacial tongue

Continental traffic police are en route

An iceberg the size of Long Island has collided with the Drygalski ice tongue in Antarctica, breaking off a sizeable chunk of the glacial outflow. Maps of the continent will, they say, have to be re-drawn.

The 115-kilometre-long berg crashed into the floating extension of the glacier on 15 April, tearing a five-kilometre chunk from the end of the protuberance. More than half the berg still has to clear the ice-tongue, and researchers expect the tongue will sustain more damage in the next few days.

The scene of the accident

The Antarctic winter is now beginning, and local observations of the collision are becoming more difficult. This picture was snapped using Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument.

Researchers have been tracking the progress of the iceberg since it broke off from the Ross ice shelf in March 2000. Back then, it was even more of a monster: at 11,655 square kilometres, it was bigger than the island of Jamaica. It later broke into smaller pieces, the largest of which is roughly the size of Luxembourg, or Long Island.

This piece was careening towards the Drygalski ice tongue earlier this year, when quite abruptly, it stopped. Scientists think it most likely that it grounded itself on a sandbank.

The huge chunk of ice has played merry hell with the normal ocean currents, stopping much of the sea ice from breaking up during the Antarctic summer. This meant Emperor penguins had a longer-than-usual trek to and from the sea to gather food for their chicks, and McMurdo researchers had difficulty reaching their base. ®

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