World's Largest Iceberg Escapes Antarctica, Heading Towards Open Ocean

Like most icebergs from the Weddell sector, A23a is likely to end up in the South Atlantic on a path called iceberg alley, European Space Agency said.

World's Largest Iceberg Escapes Antarctica, Heading Towards Open Ocean

The movement of an iceberg of such magnitude is an uncommon sight

The world's largest iceberg, A23a, roughly three times the size of New York City is on the move for the first time in more than three decades. The huge iceberg is almost 4,000 square km (1,500 square miles) in area is on the move in the Antarctic Ocean, BBCreported. 

After breaking off from West Antarctica's Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in 1986, the iceberg, which formerly accommodated a Soviet research station, has predominantly remained immobile. This occurred when its base became lodged on the seabed of the Weddell Sea, Reuters reported. 

Recent satellite images indicate that the iceberg, weighing almost a trillion metric tonnes, is currently swiftly moving past the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, propelled by robust winds and currents.

The movement of an iceberg of such magnitude is an uncommon sight, according to Oliver Marsh, a glaciologist from the British Antarctic Survey, prompting scientists to closely monitor its path.

As it continues to advance, the massive iceberg is expected to be propelled into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This will guide it towards the Southern Ocean along a route known as "iceberg alley," where other icebergs of similar size can be observed floating in the dark waters.

It remains unclear why the berg is making a run for it now. 

"Over time it's probably just thinned slightly and got that little bit of extra buoyancy that's allowed it to lift off the ocean floor and get pushed by ocean currents," Mr Marsh told Reuters. A23a is also among the world's oldest icebergs.

There is a possibility that A23a could once again become lodged at South Georgia island, presenting a concern for Antarctica's wildlife. The island is a breeding ground for millions of seals, penguins, and seabirds, and they rely on the surrounding waters for foraging. The colossal A23a could potentially block their access to these crucial areas.

In 2020, another giant iceberg, A68, stirred fears that it would collide with South Georgia, crushing marine life on the sea floor and cutting off food access. Such a catastrophe was ultimately averted when the iceberg broke up into smaller chunks - a possible end game for A23a as well.

But "an iceberg of this scale has the potential to survive for quite a long time in the Southern Ocean, even though it's much warmer, and it could make its way farther north up toward South Africa where it can disrupt shipping," said Mr Marsh.