In 2004, a giant iceberg identified as A38 grounded on the British Overseas territory of South Georgia Island. Afterward, many local animals, including young penguins and seals, turned up dead. The same scenario is unfolding with the world’s largest iceberg, A68a, as it appears via satellite imagery to be moving toward the island. If the massive iceberg grounds on South Georgia, it is feared that it could cause serious ecological problems in the region.

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A68a is the largest iceberg on Earth today at about 4,200 square kilometers. There are many concerns about the possibility of such a large iceberg anchoring at South Georgia, given the biodiversity of the island. Penguin chicks and seal pups rely on the hunting prowess of their parents to survive. Timing is critical in sustaining their lives, and delays in the return of parents can be fetal. If an iceberg gets stuck along the hunting route, chances are that many chicks and pups will die. Scientists also warn that if iceberg grounds, it could crush all the living creatures on the seabed.

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“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,” said Geraint Tarling, ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey. “And that would make a very big difference, not just to the ecosystem of South Georgia but its economy as well.”

While satellite images indicate that the iceberg is on its way to South Georgia, there is a chance that it could still veer off course. “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,” said Peter Fretwell, Geographic Information Officer at British Antarctic Survey. “But it’s very difficult to say precisely what will happen.”


Image via Nathan Kurtz / NASA