The largest iceberg in the world melted and disappeared


An enormous iceberg in Antarctica melted, its operations were probably the most well documented in history, and nothing was left in the Atlantic Ocean. The A68 was cracked from the Larsen C ice sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula in 2017 as one of the largest icebergs on record.

At that time, the part of the iceberg moved around the southern Atlantic Ocean, heading towards the island of South Georgia. There, warm temperatures and waves split it up into chunks. Since then, these pieces have split into pieces so small that they cannot be tracked.

The National Ice Center in the United States tracks icebergs that are at least 10 nautical miles (18.5 km) long, or that are at least 20 square nautical miles (68.5 square kilometers).

The largest piece of Larsen C no longer qualifies as of April 16, according to the center's database. Thanks to the abundant satellite imagery, it was evident when the massive iceberg first began to crack under the pressure of movement (only a week after it freed from the ice shelf).

Earth scientists can see cracks in the ice and difference in temperature in the water that surrounds it. They saw that it was stuck on a seamount not far from where it was born, and then rotated toward warmer waters in a stream called the Weddell Gyre.

And in November 2020, it looked as if the A68 might collide with shallow waters near South Georgia Island, which could prevent the penguins that live there from reaching the ocean. But the A68 swung wide and instead became soft and cracked, as waves tightened it and warm water seeped into tiny cracks and widened, according to the BBC.

"We saw every little twist and were able to follow its progress through daily satellite imagery, with a level of detail that we had not been able to do before," said Laura Gresh, a cartographer at the British Antarctic Survey.

Researchers are also working to understand how a major birth event such as the one in which A68 was born affects the surrounding ecosystems, even though the harsh Antarctic climate made the task difficult. In 2018, a British Antarctic Survey Mission headed to the site to collect samples from the seabed but was thwarted by the heavy sea ice.

The second mission in 2019 was similarly foiled. The mission, which was sent to South Georgia Island in February, was finally successful. Researchers have deployed two marine robots near the island to investigate how the influx of cold freshwater from melt fragments of A68 is affecting the local ecosystem.

One of the robots is lost, according to the BBC, but the other will be recovered in May and its data analyzed, according to ScienceAlert.

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