World’s Largest Iceberg Breaks Free

According to the British Antarctic Survey, one of the largest icebergs in the world began drifting beyond the waters of the Antarctic after it had been grounded for nearly 30 years, the Associated Press reported.

The A23a iceberg initially split off from the Filchner Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 1986. However, it quickly became stuck to the ocean floor and for years remained in the Weddel Sea.

Nearly three times the size of New York City, the A23a iceberg measures approximately 4,000 square kilometers (or 1,500 square miles).

The British Antarctic Survey’s Andrew Fleming, a remote sensing expert, told the BBC last week that A23a had been drifting for about a year but now appears to have picked up speed. Fleming said the iceberg has moved past the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip with the help of ocean currents and wind.

However, Fleming dismissed the notion that A23a’s movement was due to changes in the water temperature of the shelf, saying after speaking with colleagues, “the consensus is the time had just come.”

He explained that while the iceberg had been grounded since 1986, “eventually it was going to decrease” in size enough to begin to lose its grip and start to move again.

Fleming told the BBC that he first detected the iceberg’s movement in 2020 but now, it is ungrounded completely and is moving with ocean currents to sub-Antarctic South Georgia.

Chad Greene, a glaciologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, told New Scientist that large icebergs break off from the Antarctic shelf at least once every decade. Sometimes the icebergs get stuck and remain in one place for decades before they break off again and “decide to go for a jolly,” Greene said.

There is no risk to humans from A23a’s “jolly.” However, the iceberg could cause problems for wildlife if it gets stuck in a breeding area.