The massive iceberg that cleaved off from Antarctica earlier this month is already breaking into smaller pieces, which could potentially put ocean ships in danger.
Landsat 8, an imaging satellite, took overhead photos of the iceberg, dubbed A68, in the days after it separated from the Larsen C ice shelf in the western part of Antarctica. What it found was that smaller icebergs had in turn broken away from the larger mass, and that more are ready to follow suit. There are three “not yet released icebergs at the north end,” NASA reported when it shared the Landsat 8 images Tuesday.
The satellite had passed overhead to take the photos on July 14 and July 21, NASA said.
Those images also show that A68 is being carried north by currents, and is moving slowly away from the Larsen C ice shelf.
The smaller icebergs that have already broken off A68 and will break off from it in the future are not unexpected. At the time of the calving, Project MIDAS, a research group based in the United Kingdom that focuses on Larsen C, mentioned the possibility in a post on its website.
“It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments,” Swansea University’s Adrian Luckman, a lead investigator for MIDAS, said in the report. “Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.”
Drifting pieces could be a problem for ships, including those moving in the waters around southern South America. That’s not as far away as it sounds from the frozen Antarctic landmass: The location in western Antarctica from where the A68 iceberg broke off is on the part of the continent that reaches up into the South Pacific Ocean…