It is huge. It’s frozen. And it’s touching.
It’s an iceberg called A23a. Wait, they call it that? Come on, we can do better.
For more than 100 years, no iceberg has been more famous than the one that sank the Titanic and abruptly ended Rose and Jack’s fictional love story. But that was before a giant iceberg began wandering north from Antarctica.
Where is he headed? How did it happen? What does all this mean? You have questions, we have answers.
Where did this iceberg come from?
The iceberg initially broke away from Antarctica – a process known as calving – in 1986. But it didn’t get far and soon became stuck in the Weddell Sea, south of South America.
This changed in 2020, when it started moving again. It is now advancing slowly and is almost about to pass the tip of the Antarctic peninsula and leave Antarctic waters.
Scientists say it is currently the world’s largest iceberg at 1,500 square kilometers. That’s about five times the land area of New York City. It is also about 1,300 feet thick, roughly equivalent to the height of the Empire State Building.
He’s probably headed to “Iceberg Alley.”
The iceberg will most likely head towards a part of the Southern Ocean known as Iceberg Alley, where bergs like to congregate. So don’t expect me to surf Copacabana Beach or the French Riviera.
Despite what Hollywood has taught you, A23a will not pass through populated areas, nor will it become sentient due to an ancient curse and seek revenge for humanity’s mistreatment of polar bears.
Instead, it will eventually go the way of snows of old or the ice in your gin and tonic and break into smaller pieces and melt. But, due to its enormous size, it will take years to disappear into the sea. (An earlier iceberg, declared the world’s largest at the time, took about two decades to disintegrate.)
Childbirth is a natural process, but climate change could be a factor.
As the ice begins to leave Antarctica, it’s hard not to think about climate change and worry about a fleet of enormous icebergs intent on destroying the Atlantic advancing in the years to come.
“The climate is changing and affecting how ice shelves melt,” said Indrani Das, a research associate professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and a glaciologist who specializes in snow and ice. “Ice shelves are losing mass because the ocean is warming. Childbirth is a natural process, but it could be favored by the climate.”
But since this iceberg broke off in 1986, it would have broken free anyway. And that’s not automatically a bad thing.
“An ice shelf losing its mass is a natural process,” he said. “If she doesn’t give birth, she will continue to grow. The ice shelf must be balanced.”
Should we really be joking about this?
Well, maybe not. There are risks to Superberg’s journey.
“Icebergs are dangerous if they come into a sea route,” Dr Das said. “It could isolate a colony of penguins. We will know as we follow its trajectory.”
But he added: “I like to see the positive side of things. When icebergs melt, they provide fresh water and nutrients to the ocean. Icebergs are beautiful and interesting.”
As long as you’re not Jack Dawson or an isolated penguin.